Just to be clear about this, I like a good musical as much as the next guy… Okay, so most guys would never admit to being a fan of any sort of musical, but I do love films in general and just because something is a musical doesn’t mean it should be cut short. I even own a wide variety of them, ranging from Chicago to Moulin Rouge, Singing in the Rain to High Society, along with Rock of Ages, Little Shop of Horrors, and even Hairspray.
We all know some are way better than others, and some weren’t worth the accolades heaped upon them (I’m looking at you Dreamgirls). So when it came time to adapt a worldwide phenomenon such as Les Misérables, director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, another undeserving Best Picture winner if there ever was one) has himself quite a feat to overcome.
The story remains the same of course, with Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being released from prison in 1815. It’s hate at first sight for Javert (Russell Crowe) who makes a personal vendetta to see that Valjean never stops fighting for his freedom. Valjean continues to fight his own instincts to keep from becoming a thief in the night, a dog on the run.
Fantine (Anne Hathaway) on the other hand is just trying to make a living to send to her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen) who’s under the lock and key of Madame Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter) and Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen). Valjean first tries to rescue Fantine from her future as a prostitute and fails so he moves on to give Cosette the future her mother had, eventually leading to her growing up to be played by Amanda Seyfried. Meanwhile, the French Revolution is in full swing with Marius (Eddie Redmayne) leading the way, Éponine (Samantha Barks) sealing the requisite love triangle, and the Thénardiers are hot on Cosette’s and Valjean’s heals.
Director Hooper does just about the best job you can finally bringing a film adaptation of the beloved stage musical version of Les Misérables, but it’s not without its warts. The opening CGI elements don’t set the appropriate mood; anyone who’s seen the commercials will know what I’m talking about. Were it not for the memorable humming playing over the visuals, you’d swear someone had talked Crowe into starring in a video game. Not to mention he’s given the Pierce Brosnan Mamma Mia! role of sticking out like a sore thumb by singing worse than anyone else in the whole production. Most of the film feels like it’s filmed on sets instead of having that open feeling it should have to give the city of France some room to breathe and become part of the story.
The cast does do a marvelous job considering Hooper’s decision to require everyone to act/sing live instead of recording the musical elements in a booth somewhere in Hollywood. This brings a far better sense of authenticity to the songs, especially considering the film is nonstop singing.
This type of musical typically starts to wear me down before it’s over, but Les Mis thankfully only picks up speed as it moves along. Especially considering Bonham Carter and Cohen are essentially playing their Sweeney Todd characters. Will Les Misérables score some Oscar love? Maybe in the form of nominations; but will it win any? Hathaway and Jackman stand the best chance. As for the rest of the film, this is about as good as you’re going to get and for the musical’s fans I’m sure that’s all they hoped for to begin with. At least it didn’t wind up being Les Terribles.
Photos courtesy Universal Pictures