Les Misérables (2012) is a well known novel and opera adapted for screen and directed by Tom Hooper. The film musical follows the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man who is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving nephew. After serving his sentence of nineteen years, he is released on parole. Valjean has been forced to believe that he is a true criminal and will never be able to repent his sins. When a religious man reminds Valjean that he does indeed have a soul, Valjean decides to start his life over. He changes his name and becomes a virtuous man, a mayor of the town Montreuil-sur-Mer, and a factory owner, where he employs many people. One day, it is discovered that one of his workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) had a child out of wedlock. Unknowingly to Valjean, Fantine is dismissed because the others believe that she will cause trouble and shame for the rest of them. Needing to support her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen, Amanda Seyfried), Fantine is forced into a life of prostitution. When Javert (Russell Crowe), a police officer, catches Fantine and tries to arrest her, Valjean interferes. He sees that she is sick and wants to bring her to the hospital. Fantine explains to him that she is in such a precarious situation because of his prior neglect. Wrought with guilt, Valjean proclaims that he will find Cosette and take care of her for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, Javert, who realizes that Valjean is an escaped convict, makes it his life goal to bring Valjean to justice. The conflict gets increasingly complex with the impending revolution and uprising against the French government, which the execution of is both destructive and restoring.
Creating a new version of Les Misérables is a weighty undertaking. The story has such a wide and fervent following that there is huge potential to disappoint fans that find the book and lyrics to be some of the best music ever written. In addition, because the opera scarcely has any speaking moments, the director had to have a vision that would make film audiences sit through three hours of song. The most notable way he achieved this was through casting. Outside of Hugh Jackman, who has made a career in film and on the stage, Hooper mainly casted actors who work primarily or exclusively on film. What this decision allowed Hooper to develop is a more personal, relatable quality. The brushstroke themes and set pieces are large, but they contrast the performances that the highly acclaimed Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, and the rest of the ensemble cast give. The singing voices of the actors are at many times throughout the piece far from perfect, even though Hooper could have easily plucked flawless belters from Broadway. However, had he chosen resident stage veterans, their performances might have been larger than life, which would have resulted in the film losing a special gritty, real characteristic. The singing may not always be pretty, but in all fairness, the world in Les Misérables is not an ideal one. What is necessary is that the emotion behind the words feels truthful, which it does and then some. In fact, the performances are so brutally honest that it is quite disturbing to watch. Coupled with the gorgeous cinematography and editing, this film is certainly one of the best of 2012.