Review No. 378
The Bottom Line: Les Misérables is the most beautiful film of last year.
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Written by: William Nicholson
Based on: musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg; novel by Victor Hugo
Book by: Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil
Original French lyrics by: Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel
Translated English lyrics by: Herbert Kretzmer
Jean Valjean: Hugh Jackman
Javert: Russell Crowe
Fantine: Anne Hathaway
Cosette: Amanda Seyfried
Thénardier: Sacha Baron Cohen
Madame Thénardier: Helena Bonham Carter
Enjolras: Aaron Tveit
Éponine: Samantha Barks
Gavroche: Daniel Huttlestone
Distributed by Universal Pictures on December 25, 2012. Produced in English by the United Kingdom. Runs 160 minutes. Rated PG-13 by the MPAA for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.
Les Misérables was watched on December 26, 2012.
“Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!”
If the moviemaking world were flowing with directors who could attain just what Tom Hooper has attained, Friday nights would be impressive, outstanding, and jaw-dropping displays of innovation and glory. Hooper has done something I cannot recall ever having been done when transforming a Broadway musical from stage to screen. I’m not saying that this the first, sung-through musical adaptation of Les Misérables that has ever been released to the silver screen. I speak of something far grander.
While filming, the actors and actresses all heard the orchestration as it was separately recorded, so that they may express dialogue in a less constricted manner, while still staying with the score. Basically, what is happening is singing sentences rather than musical phrases. This style allows boundless emotion through the dramatic aspects as well as the cinematic aspects.
The performances are indeed magnificent. What’s even better is that the cast has outstanding an outstanding voice (with the disappointingly noticeable exception of Russell Crowe). Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) “I Dreamed a Dream” is particularly moving, as is Éponine’s (debuting Samantha Barks) “On My Own”.
Purely for the sake of beauty in speech, none of the cast flaunts a French accent, save for Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, the two nasty, drunken comic reliefs in an otherwise melancholy drama.
Australian actor Hugh Jackman delivers stunningly as Jean Valjean, the hero in this tour de force. Our story commences in 1815, sixteen years after the end of the French Revolution. Jean Valjean is now being released on parole by Inspector Javert, who had imprisoned him for nineteen years, merely for stealing bread to feed his family, and four righteous albeit failed escape attempts. During his time out of prison, and still at odds with Javert, Valjean breaks parole and utterly redeems himself. He becomes a factory worker as well as the mayor; he cares for and raises young Cosette, after her illegitimate mother dies and two self-absorbed innkeepers abuse her.
This is the story of one man’s (Valjean) risks to promote love over law; and another man’s (Javert) risks to promote law over love. This is a story of love itself, even if it means going as far as criminal acts, even if that means going as far as dying for loved ones. This is a story of redemption, even if there was no definitive injustice in the first place, even if there is a subtly religious overtone that embodies the entirety. This is a story of hope, even if the French Revolution ended up lasting an entire decade, and left a period of despair in its aftermath; even if the lower class never earned any money, let alone respect for their social status.
This is the adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg’s 1987 musical Les Misérables, eponymously based upon Victor Hugo’s extensive 1862 novel of the same name. How amazing that Hugo wrote that novel just years after the French Revolution, and as it appears precisely 150 years later, it’s perhaps just as authentic.
Of course, this screen edition runs long, but it doesn’t feel anywhere near the reported two hours, forty minutes.
Acting. Music. Screenplay. Direction. Costume. Cinematography. Makeup. Regardless of whether a minute aspect or a conversely forward one, these are all absolutely astonishing pieces that make the film as unforgettable as it is. In essence, Les Misérables is the paragon, sweeping musical epic.
Best Picture; Best Actor (Hugh Jackman); Best Supporting Actor (Sacha Baron Cohen); Best Cinematography; Best Costume Design; Best Editing; Best Ensemble/All-Star Performance; Best Debut/Breakthrough Performance (Samantha Barks)