Boxing Day finally arrived yesterday and there was one particular movie which I could not wait to see. Les Miserables finally opened in Australia and my excitement at seeing the latest iteration of the triumphant stage show was palpable. I had talked about the movie for months, and last night at 6:45pm, my long and at times painful wait came to an end. And my was it worth the wait.
Les Miserables is a movie adapted from a uber successful stage production, adapted from a 19th century literary classic written by legendary French author, Victor Hugo. The story begins in the France of 1815 and ends with the June Rebellion, also known as the Paris Uprising, which took place in 1832. The story though is more about love about the divide between the rich and the poor than it is about the attempt at a coup by the anti-monarchists in Paris.
The story focuses on two main characters- Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), Javert (Russell Crowe), but features an intertwining storyline featuring Fantine (Anne Hathaway), Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Eponine (Samantha Barks). The story also includes the not insignificant characters of Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter).
Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a convict jailed for stealing a loaf of bread, who, upon his release from two decades in prison, made tough by hard labour, fights to become an upstanding citizen. Valjean becomes the mayor of a French town where he meets Fantine (Hathaway). Fantine dies early in the piece and Jean Valjean pledges to raise her young daughter Cosette. All the while, Jackman’s character is pursued by Javert, played by Russell Crowe.
The story then skips about a decade and we find Cosette (Seyfried) all grown up, succumbing to the romantic advances of Marius (Redmayne), who is spellbound by her beauty. At the same time as Marius falls for Cosette, we learn that his friend Eponine has fallen in love with him. But alas Eponine finds that it is a classic case of unrequited love.
Preparations then begin for the uprising, with Marius joining the group of young men plotting to overthrow the monarchy. At this time Valjean rejoins the story taking care of Marius after he is wounded by a musket during the Paris uprising. Valjean, the determined pursuer of Jackman’s character Valjean reappears too, still wanting to catch his man.
There is very little wrong with this film. The weakest link appears to be Crowe, who appears unconvincing and seems to struggle with the musical dialogue in the early part of the film. But this improves markedly as the film progresses. However, the acting side of the equation when it comes to Russell Crowe all adds up. Despite his initially shaky voice, Crowe hits a home run with the expression of emotions and even hits all the right notes as the film heads towards its conclusion.
Hugh Jackman provides the most dominant acting display of his career. He is aided in breaking through to the viewer by great camera work from director Tom Hooper who manages to capture in the most raw, but beautiful way the whole array of expressions we see from Jackman in the most important role of his career. Jackman nails the vocals as any ‘triple threat’ should and if you do not shed a tear or two, especially during ‘Bring Him Home’ then you are probably not human, or something along those lines.
Anne Hathaway is stunning as Fantine. For the period of time her character graces the screen you experience the blossoming of an actress that has not had the best roles of late. Hathaway owns the role with a faultless expression of the poor Fantine who endures many forms of deprivation trying to care for her Cosette. If it could be put simply, the only thing that need be uttered is ‘wow’. It’s what I was thinking and what my tears were saying, especially during ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. And her tears screamed how real it was too.
The romantic chemistry between Redmayne’s Marius and Seyfried’s Cosette was another strong part of the film. The scene where the pair meet and speak for the first time is among my highlights from the film. Both Redmayne and Seyfried put in such polished performances and you experience and can feel the full gamut of emotions from the pair.
And Samantha Barks, playing Eponine, provides for another exceptional display of acting and singing. Why would she not? Barks after all has again taken on the role which she first played on the London stage in 2010-11. Barks in that version of the immensely popular story performed brilliantly and beautifully. Her onscreen reprisal of the role certainly lived up to the lofty expectations developed after her immaculate performance onstage.
This film works, not just because of mostly amazing casting, but because of the brilliant work behind the camera from two people in particular. Director Tom Hooper, an Academy Award winner for The King’s Speech, managed to capture absolutely everything on film, from different aspects of the French landscape, to the all-important facial expressions and human emotion which needs to be captured and displayed in pure form in a first-class drama. At times the computer-generated imaging looked a bit too fake, but there is not much more that could have been done. And producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who brought Les Miserables to the London stage, managed to bring all the magic of the theatre production to the silver screen.
Fans of Les Miserables will almost without fault absolutely adore the movie and hold it just as dearly in their heart’s as they do the stage productions they have seen. The movie just works. But for some, the movie will not be an option, and that is down to little else but the length of the film and of course some people’s aversion to the drama genre.
Hugh Jackman will win the Oscar for Best Actor and Anne Hathaway will come away with Best Supporting Actress. They would have to be odds-on favourites for the two gongs. Don’t be surprised too if Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne receive award nominations for their supporting roles.
If you want to experience the joy of cinematic and musical excellence combined, then you simply must go and see the movie.