★ ★ ★ ★
In the very clichéd way I am titling this review of Les Misérables I am want to give a sense of how this film can be easily compared to The Dark Knight from a few years ago. From a young director with a number of critically acclaimed titles under his belt comes a movie with a central supporting (I love when I get to use oxymorons) character being portrayed by someone seen as totally wrong for the role who after one trailer became the main reason everyone wanted to see the damn movie and then goes on to win the Best Supporting Osc…. Well I’m getting a head of myself with the last part but I hope the imperative tone of that run on sentence gives some indication as to the love I have for Anne Hathaway’s Fantine.
Les Misérables is a film adapted from a stage musical which was in turn adapted from the classic novel by French author, Victor Hugo. Directed by Tom Hooper, fresh off his Best Picture/Best Director Oscar wins for The King’s Speech, the film takes place in 19th century France after Napoleon was deposed and a king once again sat on the throne of France. Following the story of a released convict, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who has broken his parole and is running from a police inspector by the name of Javert (Russell Crowe). Through his journey, Valjean meets various men and women who are affected by the unforgiving society of France, such as a young mother who turned to prostitution after losing her job in his factory (Hathaway), that woman’s daughter (Amanda Seyfried), a pair of dubious inn keepers (Sacha Baren Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), and a group of republican revolutionaries (led by Seyfried’s love interest, Eddie Redmayne).
Key to this film is Jackman’s performance which leaves nothing to the imagination. Every emotion, every conflict, every desire he feels we see in startling detail in one of the most incredible performances of Jackman’s career. His voice is bombastic and perfectly suited to the live performance style in which Les Mis was filmed. Hathaway’s appearance, as I stated above, is remarkable and since she only appears early in the story, her vibrant emotional acting leaves you wishing she’d come back through much of the rest of the film. Seyfried and Redmayne give the film an excellent love arc but the most notable performance in that subplot comes from Samantha Barks character who loves Redmayne though he does not return the sentiment. Baren Cohen and Bonham Carter give much needed comedic relief in a movie that is otherwise very sad and depressing. Many reviewers have complained about Russell Crowe’s singing voice and though he cannot compete with Jackman, his vocals are by no means bad and his performance as Javert is beautifully subtle when he begins to see a moral conflict in his hunt of Valjean.
The only criticism I have is in the cinematography. While sweeping and beautiful in some scenes, in some sequences the shot placements seem off and during solos the camera remains largely stagnant in a close up of the singer’s face. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that around a quarter of the film is shot from close up and unfortunately that can be very distracting either because of the length of the take, or the disruption in sound. In particular, there is one song where there are four actors singing from three different set locations, and although they are all caught on film, when they change which shot is being shown in the edit, the voices don’t mix consistently to the point where you lose one voice altogether at some points.
All things being equal, this film deserves Oscar nominations for Picture, Actor (for Jackman), Costume Design, and Art Direction, with a win for Supporting Actress for Hathaway. I’m sure it will also garner nods for Direction, Sound Mixing, Editing, and Cinematography although I don’t think them deserved. It is a spectacular film that all lovers of the musical and anyone searching for an engaging film experience should go see. I for certain will be buying it when it comes out on Bluray.