Tuning the drama – No matter what side of the fence you sit on when it comes to Broadway musicals hitting the big screen, you almost have to respect one that has been around as long as Les Miserables. Sure, most of that time has been on stage, but given the novel was written back in 1862, the fact we are finally seeing it on the big screen like this is quite amazing. Yeah, there was that Liam Neeson adaptation back in 1998 and the TV miniseries in 2000, but neither stuck as something truly worthwhile. So the door was left wide open for director Tom Hooper, who not only took advantage, but showed how “Les Miserables” was meant to be told on the big screen, which was with music.
What’s it about? Based on the musical of the same name by Alan Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, the story here follows the trials and tribulations of Frenchman Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), following his release from prison after serving 19 years for stealing bread. But shortly after being freed, Valjean is caught by authorities for stealing silver from a Bishop who was nice enough to take him in one night. However, the Bishop didn’t press charges essentially giving Valjean a second chance at freedom, one Valjean swore he would honor. And he did so by breaking his parole and deciding to live an honest life under a different name. A life that he opened up for Cosette, the daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who after getting fired from Valjean’s factory runs into some bad luck with some bad people, eventually leading to her death. Having promised Fantine he would look after Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), he raised her as his own for the next nine years while constantly running from the authorities. But, when the French Revolution began shortly thereafter, everything changed for Valjean upon finding out that his adopted daughter had found love. It was then this story took a u-turn and never looked back as it stroked its chords into a frenzy leading to a predictable, yet fulfilling conclusion.
Who was in it? Where do you start with this cast, which offers a host of talent, none of which I would have ever thought would be a part of a musical like this. Well, maybe there was one exception, Hugh Jackman, who much to my chagrin led this overachieving cast up and down the streets of France with ease. Man he was great and it pains me to say it, given my absolute disregard of anything he does outside of his famed 'Wolverine' or when he is on stage. But, I have to give him props, because he ran with this role as Valjean like it was his to own, singing and exuding emotion like I have never seen from him. It was impressive and enough for me to consider him a viable nominee this entire award season. Having said that, he wasn’t alone as at an arm’s distance for virtually the entire film was one Russell Crowe.
I know, I couldn’t believe it either, but there he was singing and acting next to Jackman like they had done it before. And while Crowe might not have been as dynamic as Jackman, he still managed to pull off his role as police inspector Javert. True, maybe anyone could have played his role, but I think Crowe added a certain authoritative presence that the story thrived off of; a story that also saw a often over the top Sacha Baren Cohen steal scenes with Helena Bonham Carter at his side. But, let’s not forget about Anne Hathaway, who I wish would have stuck around longer here. Talk about falling into a role and not letting go too, as her very own Fantine was both beautiful and terrifying to watch for every second she was on screen. That’s a credit to Hathaway, whose version of “I Dreamed a Dream” has received high praise thus far among Hollywood ‘musical’ scribes.
A King’s Way – Having already been a part of a Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards, director Tom Hooper had nothing to lose with this film, or did he? Fact is, this musical adaptation has been in the works since the late 80’s, in so-called development hell. So, pushing forward with this required a whole lot of dedication and a vision, one that would honor both the Broadway musical and novel it was based off of. Well, Hooper did precisely that from where I sat watching this film, proving his worth in Hollywood as a legitimate director. And he did so maintaining all the dark and dreary tones of the story, which are not all that happy when you break them down. The result was a very emotional and raw film, which had its cast sing live, rather than the Hollywood standard of lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks. That alone deserves praise, as I can’t remember being that moved by a song like I was for nearly every one performed in this musical. Now, maybe that’s because of the content or setting by which they were singing about, but either way, you can’t take away the veracity that consumed this story inside and out. Sure, I could have preferred a few less close-ups on his stars, but if that’s the worst thing I can say about what Hooper and Co. created here, I think he did one heck of a job.
Bottom Line - Well, for those like me that never saw the Broadway musical, read the book or cared to watch any of the previous adaptation’s, I had no clue what I was walking into. But, I think that might have helped me, because watching this musical unfold in the way it did here was an experience like no other.
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