SIDEWALKS’ Jeanne Powell reviews “Les Misérables,” the motion-picture adaptation, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried.
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, with Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Based on the Original Stage Musical: Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables
Screenplay by: William Nicholson, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer
Music by: Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by: Herbert Kretzmer
Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh
Executive Producers: Liza Chasin, Angela Morrison, Nicholas Allott, F. Richard Pappas
Les Misérables is the motion-picture adaptation of the beloved global stage sensation seen by more than 60 million people in 42 countries and in 21 languages around the globe and still breaking box-office records everywhere in its 27th year. Helmed by The King’s Speech’s Academy Award®-winning director, Tom Hooper, the Working Title/Cameron Mackintosh production stars Hugh Jackman, Oscar® winner Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, with Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption—a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.
In December 2012, the world’s longest-running musical brings its power to the big screen in Tom Hooper’s sweeping and spectacular interpretation of Victor Hugo’s epic tale. With international superstars and beloved songs—including “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Bring Him Home,” “One Day More” and “On My Own”—Les Misérables, the show of shows, is now reborn as the cinematic musical experience of a lifetime.
The French novelist Victor Hugo died in 1885 and was buried with honor in the Pantheon, the temple to great French intellectuals . He published his 1,400 page novel “Les Misérables” in 1862, when he was 60 years of age. The book was a success then and still is considered a masterpiece of fiction.
The epic novel was adapted for 20th century stage and then 21st century film . As readers know, the London and New York stage versions of “Les Miz” were very popular. Despite the obvious differences between an epic novel and a stage play or film, and the seeming limitations on what can be portrayed, film director Tom Hooper has given us an intriguing film with a story which is close to the hearts of audiences everywhere.
Victor Hugo’s story remains gripping. A workingclass man struggles to help his family and in desperation steals a loaf of bread for his sister. He is sentenced to 19 years at hard labor. The French Revolution is over; its ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity seem to be no more. Napoleon Bonaparte has been defeated on the battlefield by the royal houses of Europe, not once but twice. This time England and Europe imprison him where he cannot escape. The monarchy is restored in France. A man must have properly issued papers in order to get a job. No papers? Then no work. Starving? Tough.
From this somber setting, Victor Hugo created a novel championing human dignity in the face of monumental injustice and celebrated the underground culture of a great city as well. Paris is everywhere in this film, central to this film. Thanks to the magic of Pinewood Studios, we actually feel we are in that legendary city. Eve Stewart is the production designer and Anna Lynch-Robinson is the set decorator.
Hooper did something very different in filming this musical version of Hugo’s novel. He decided to have the actors sing in the moment, while they were acting. No lip synchronization from previously recorded vocals, and no voice dubbing by more talented singers. Thanks to technology, he was able to provide the actors with ear pieces so they could hear the musicians; and he had tiny microphones pinned to their clothing. These devices were airbrushed from the film during editing. The result is an immediacy to the performances; emotions and voices are matched.
Hugh Jackman moves us as Jean Valjean, the convict who tries to build a life after 19 years hard labor in a French prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Valjean’s life is transformed twice, through an act of desperation and then through an act of kindness. Jackman brings a depth to his role as a parent in “Les Misérables,” perhaps because his own mother walked away from his family when Jackman was only eight years old.
Colm Wilkinson plays the priest who takes pity on Valjean in the second half of his life. On the London and New York stages years earlier, Wilkinson played/sang the part of Valjean.
Jean Valjean’s nemesis is the police inspector Javert. Jackman’s fellow countryman, Russell Crowe, gives us a man who was born inside a prison, the child of a female convict, and who survived to enforce the rules against all others who are unlucky enough to violate the draconian laws of 19th century France. Proper place and function Javert understands. Strict adherence to procedure and the consequences of failure to do so are his bread and butter. When confronted with kindness and generosity, however, Javert becomes conflicted. His turmoil is genuine.
Anne Hathaway is Fantine, the single mother who struggles to support her child. Fending off gossip and sexual harassment at a factory, she loses her job and is forced to take to the streets. Anything, anything to save her daughter. Hathaway’s performance is deeply affecting as Fantine fights social inequity no human should have to endure.
A delightful surprise are Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the scheming innkeepers who overcharge Fantine for the care of her little daughter. Their thieving ways and scampish lyrics bring a lightness and humor to the storyline, as they endeavor to keep making money from the child’s plight and from any hapless visitors who are unlucky enough to stop at the Thenardier inn.
The romantic leads are enchanting. Eddie Redmayne is Marius, the university student who understands the need for revolution against the tyranny of the restored monarchy. His political fellow traveler is the gypsy-like youth Eponine Thenardier, portrayed by Samantha Barks. Amanda Seyfried is Cosette, raised by Jean Valjean, and who becomes the object of Marius’ affections.
Two generations come into play in this excellent adaptation of the Victor Hugh novel. The director wisely leaves out the fascinating details of the Napoleonic Wars, since he does not intend to give us a film of eight hours (think Nicholas Nickleby stage version of Dickens novel) or 12 hours (think War and Peace film by Bondarchuk).
The essential plot of Les Miserables is retained, culminating in the bloody insurrection in 1832. A deadly cholera epidemic compounded by a severe economic crisis built on long-standing political discontent. Students and other revolutionaries took to the barricades, expecting support from the Parisian populace; the insurrection failed.
The film, however, soars. The music you already know by heart. Experience it here in a new way through the innovations of director Tom Hooper.