"Les Miserables," originally a novel by Victor Hugo, has been adapted as a film or TV miniseries 9 times, including this one. This one stands apart from the rest, being the only film adaptation of the hit London and Broadway musical that debuted in the 1980s and became a monstrous hit. Many have said over the years that this musical is unfilmable. I think that Tom Hooper and his cast have proven the naysayers to be wrong.
Before I get into the whys, hows, etc. I need to let you know where I'm coming from with this. I am a huge fan of musicals, and I am a trained opera singer who made a living singing professionally for a decade. I went into this feeling more than a little skeptical about the singing, especially given the cast. These are film actors, primarily, although a handful of them are just plain amazing singers. I even cringed after seeing some clips from the film. In all honesty, viewing the film as a whole, I could not imagine a better, more fitting filmed version.
"Les Miserables," set in early 19th century France, is the story of a man with a troubled past who seeks redemption, but is chased all the while by another man who feels that redemption is not possible for those who have sinned. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) breaks his parole, has a life-changing encounter with a kind Bishop, and in order to avoid being labeled a criminal for the rest of his life, he creates the identity of Monsieur Madeleine. He establishes himself as a factory owner in a small provincial city, and eventually is elected Mayor. Javert (Russell Crowe), a police inspector who was once a guard at the prison where Valjean served 19 years, is reassigned to Valjean's town. He pauses for a second when he thinks that "Monsieur Madeleine" looks familiar, and even suspects he is the infamous escaped convict until another man is caught. When Valjean learns that this man is set to be tried for his crimes, he packs his life up and goes to the courthouse to confess. But wait, there's more! Valjean was indirectly responsible for the woman Fantine (Anne Hathaway) losing her job at the factory. In desperation, Fantine turned to prostitution to pay for the care of her daughter Cosette, who is in the care of a nasty Inkeeper and his nastier wife, the Thenardiers (Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter).
This is just a quarter or so of the story. Hugo's plot is a complex litany of melodrama. The melodrama works because the actors all invest in their characters in a deeply committed way. If you ask me, there isn't a weak link in the cast from that perspective. The singing, however...
Most people seem to be ok with Hugh Jackman's singing. Jackman is a musical theater veteran, but I'm not sure that I would have cast him as JVJ. His voice is often very shrill, but he uses it to good effect. His approach to the singing is more of singing in a character than anyone else in the movie. The overall package, however, is highly moving, and I am fully behind Jackman's acting nomination. Crowe seems to be the least favorite of most folks who have seen the movie. I'm not sure I understand why. Is he the least trained singing-wise? Yes, by far! Is he out of tune, as many have said? No more than the rest of the cast. He presents a character who is more complex than what he outwardly seems. His Javert is blindsided to think that life is not all about order and right, but about forgiving and trying to do better. I enjoyed his performance, and I liked his more subtle singing. Anne Hathaway, however, takes the prize for a vocal knock-out. Her "I Dreamed A Dream" is a raw, stunning thing that really reflects the depth of desperation that her character finds herself in. Aaron Tveit as Enjolras is another standout. He improves every scene he is in. Daniel Huddleston as Gavroche is wonderful as well. My least favorite singer is Eddie Redmayne, in the pivotal role of marius. I found his voice to be unpleasant, his chin-wobble while singing to be a huge distraction, and his acting to be mostly flat, save a few scenes. I was very disappointed in his "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables."
Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") made the decision to have nearly all of the singing done live on set. Usually, songs are pre-recorded months in advance. The live-singing approach results in a level of emotional sincerity and truth that most filmed musicals never have. There are imperfections that add to the already strong performances. Hooper also shoots many of the songs in close-up, usually making it feel very personal. I'm a fan.
If you like musicals, you stand a chance of liking this movie. Warning: The story is very dark, and nearly everything is sung. The movie itself runs around 2:45. Not appropriate for young children.
Playing locally at Cinemark Movies 10 in Joliet, although times are very limited.