Les Misérables, a long-running stage show based on the book by Victor Hugo has been a phenomenal success over the years. With 32 years on stage, and 60 million viewers worldwide, Tom Hooper was always going to have a lot to live up to. A global phenomenon such as this could not be done half-heartedly.
The story follows a man named Jean Valjean, who stole a loaf of bread to save his starving sister and her son. He sentenced to nineteen years imprisonment under the watchful eye of police office Javert. When released, he breaks his parole and begins a life on the run creating a new identity as mayor and factory owner.
It is here that his path crosses with poor employee Fantine, whose daughter, Cosette, he vows to take care of whilst she is on her death bed. Cosette is set to fall in love with young fiery revolutionist Marius, just as Paris erupts in violence and rebellion, whilst Javert continues his lifelong pursuit of Jean Valjean. Tom Hooper by no means does this film half-heartedly. With heartbreaking performances from every member of the cast, he has created a global phenomenon not to be missed.
The thing that stands out most about this film is the phenomenal and faultless acting and singing from every member of the cast. Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the tormented hero Jean Valjean, from the outset, is completely faultless, right through until the end when he is on his deathbed. He creates many tear-jerking moments; the first comes from the beginning when he is taken in by the bishop who forgives him for attempting to steal his silver. Jackman sings a soliloquy to the camera, as he is enlightened by the priest’s generosity and love, and we see a true change in the character of Jean Valjean.
His most powerful moment comes at the end of the film, when he is on his deathbed. The loneliness and heart break that fills his entire being is well and truly felt by the audience, and there is not a dry eye in the entire house whilst he is singing his final song. We can truly see the torment that devours him, and the release he feels when Fantine is by his side-A truly heartbreaking and flawless performance by Jackman.
One of the most affecting scenes comes from Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Fantine. Her rendition of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ is one of the most memorable, heart-wrenching and Oscar-worthy performances, and even though her total screen time was only fifteen minutes, those were fifteen minutes of the most amazing screenplay seen in the past decade.
The emotion, heartbreak and total desperation is shown flawlessly through her singing and acting, and this is heightened further due to the fact that she is singing live to the camera, with only a piano playing in her earpiece. This gives the audience a taster of sheer, flawless and raw talent, something which we are not often subjected to.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham-Carter’s portrayal of M and Mme Thenardier, the comical innkeepers/con-artists who neglected Cosette are a breath of fresh air, and an incredible comic release throughout this heartbreaking film. In particular, the moment in which Cohen mistakenly calls Cosette names such as ‘Colette’ and even ‘Courgette’ when trying to prove his love for the young girl have the audience laughing off their seats.
One actor whose performance has been highly speculated and debated and at times faulted is Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Javert. Some critics have stated that his performances seemed void of emotion, weak and with no variation throughout the film. However, I believe his portrayal of Javert was flawless.
The character of Javert is depicted as the villain throughout this story-he is an emotionless character throughout with no sympathy of those around him. Yes, it is true we do not see any extreme emotion through Crowe’s singing, however this is completely true to the character of Javert. He is supposed to have a soullessness about him, and Crowe portrays this to perfection.
The point in which we see Javert’s emotion come through, is at the end when he gives his medal of bravery to the young boy. He then sings his final song, before he commits suicide. It is at this point in the film where Crowe lets loose, and we see crescendo’s and trills flying in from here, there and everywhere, and this final performance is one of dignity, torment and full of heartbreak.
The setting and special effects of this film is another thing to be praised. From the opening of the film, when the prisoners are hauling in the ship sets the bar to what is going to be a fantastic viewing, if not only for the acting but also for the set.
The dirty streets of Paris, and the poverty and suffering surrounding the working class are presented to complete precision. The most effective scene, however is final scene, in which a barricade is built high around the entire city, entirely made up of furniture. The entire cast are stood at the top of this barricade, laden with flags singing “Do You Hear The People Sing?” and if this doesn’t make you want to jump out of your seat, climb right on up there and join in, I don’t know what will.
Hooper’s decision to have the actors singing live to the camera was possibly the best decision he could make and has set him aside from every other director in the film and television industry. In a film in which most of the dialogue is set to music, this was always going to be a risk, however it gives the film a raw, heartfelt and dramatic vitality to it.
To non-theatre goers, these 158 minutes of pure singing could be tiresome. But even so, you can’t fault the perfection and emotion these actors portray through their singing. The story of Les Misérables is set out in a lot more detail, and with a fuller context than can be shown in a musical. We witness the trials and suffering in 19th century Paris, in which the lower classes are suffering and a rebellion is upon us. We see more depth in every character, as well as a deeper meaning to the decisions they make and the grievances they feel.
Tom Hooper has created a masterpiece, which will be talked about and celebrated for years. This has truly heightened the bar in which future directors have to live up to. This block buster phenomenon has definitely given way to a new age of cinema.