Hooper’s Les Misérables Brings Us Home

8216882177_d51dd84270Every once in a while, a film comes around that is a game changer.  For the movie musical, Les Misérables is that film.  Based on the 1985 Cameron Macintosh produced  play, which epically tells Victor Hugo’s story of love, redemption and war, the eagerly awaited film version in every aspect surpasses its stage counterpart.  Adapted for the screen by Tom Hooper, Oscar winning director of The King’s Speech, Les Mis is now the standard bearer for all that follow.

Les Misérables follows the journey of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and his moral rival, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).   The movie opens with Valjean being paroled from the chain-gang after being imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child.  He tries and fails to reintegrate into society and is taken in by a Bishop (London and Broadway Valjean, Colm Wilkinson).  Valjean, unredeemed, steals silver from the convent and is once again captured.  The Bishop vouches for Valjean and tells him that because of this, his soul now belongs to God.   Valjean breaks his parole and makes a new life for himself from the proceeds of the silver and becomes mayor of a small labor town where we meet Fantine (Anne Hathaway).  Fantine is trying to make ends meet by working in the local factory to feed her sick child.  When she is canned and Valjean fails to come to her rescue, Fantine is thrown into the streets and in order to provide for her daughter Cosette, becomes a prostitute which ends up being a fatal decision.  Valjean’s deathbed promise to Fantine is to care for Cosette who we find being “kept” by the Thénardiers  (Helena Bonham  Carter & Sasha Barron Cohen).   Cosette grows into  womanhood living in near solitude with Valjean while  Javert continues his quest to capture his long lost parolee. The student revolution is now in full swing and France is on the brink of war.  The story shifts into high gear with a wealthy Marius gives up his family fortune to join the revolutionaries.  However he sees Cosette and both fall instantly in love, which is a heart breaker for Eponine, daughter of the Innkeepers who also longs for Marius’ affections.   The revolution begins at the crude barricade where lives are lost, rivals meet and a father is left to give the ultimate sacrifice.

Les Misérables … Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in Tom Hooper's adaptation of the stage musical. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar/Universal Pictures

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the stage musical. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar/Universal Pictures

What separates Les Misérables from other movie musicals is that the Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer score is sung live.  Not just the solo numbers, but the choral numbers as well.  (Two songs in Alan Parker’s EVITA where also sung live).  Thus, for the first time in film musical history we are privy to the absolute truth the actors feel in the moment.   Many such numbers were recorded in a one-shot take, including Anne Hathaway’s Oscar worthy “I Dreamed A Dream”, where this well known  show tune  standard gets new life;  as does Mr. Jackman’s haunting “Bring Him Home”.   In fact, with a cast comprised of stage and film veterans, the score has taken on new meaning.  Eddie Redmayne is perfectly cast as Marius, who actually gets a back story he can delve into; Amanda Seyfried is a winning Cosette, although her vibrato proves a bit trying at times; Samantha Barks, the only actor to reprise a stage role as Eponine and does so with  heartbreaking success; Next To Normal star Aaron Tveit finally makes the revolutionary Enjolras a major player.  Even Russell Crowe does not seem out of place as Javert and his suicide scene proves quite gripping.  The score also gets a new addition with the song  mediocre song “Suddenly” sung by Mr. Jackson after he takes Cosette from the Thénardiers.

eddie-redmayne-in-les-miserablesMore than anything, it is the performances of Mr. Jackman and Ms. Hathaway that catapult this movie into greatness.  Jackman is utterly transforming as Valjean, both physically and in his interpretation of a man so scorned by life, but able to find beauty and love in a child.  The smallness of film acting suits his interpretation immensely as opposed to the broad strokes actors have to make on the stage.   So too with Ann Hathaway who gives one of the greatest performances on screen….period.

Technically, Les Misérables is a true epic thanks to Danny Cohen’s vibrant cinematography, Paco Delgado’s costumes  while the lush orchestrations soar with a 70 piece orchestra.  More than anything, the film version reinforces the notion that human redemption is always possible. Not only is that a great sentiment for the holidays, but one we can carry with us every on this never ending road to Calvary.

Directed by Tom Hooper
Produced by Tim Bevan
Eric Fellner
Debra Hayward
Cameron Mackintosh
Screenplay by William Nicholson
Alain Boublil
Claude-Michel Schönberg
Herbert Kretzmer
Based on Les Misérables (musical) by
Alain Boublil
Claude-Michel Schönberg
Herbert Kretzmer
Starring Hugh Jackman
Russell Crowe
Anne Hathaway
Amanda Seyfried
Eddie Redmayne
Helena Bonham Carter
Sacha Baron Cohen
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Cinematography Danny Cohen
Editing by Melanie Ann Oliver
Chris Dickens
Studio Working Title Films
Relativity Media
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s)
  • 7 December 2012 (London, premiere)[1]
  • 11 January 2013 (United Kingdom)
Running time 160 minutes[2]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $61 million[3]