Hooper's Les Miserables is messy in parts, but this sprawling epic of romance, religion and revolution is a triumph
Fresh from Oscar success with The King's Speech in 2010, Tom Hooper returns to the fold to direct the big screen adaptation of the stage musical Les Miserables, which in turn is adapted from Victor Hugo's 1862 novel. Les Miserables opened on Friday as a serious awards season contender, with 8 nods from the Academy as well as nominations from both BAFTA and the Golden Globes. Along with predicted awards success, 'Les Mis' has received critical acclaim from both sides of the pond, bringing high expectations for British audiences, it is bound to reach Mamma Mia-esque heights at the box office over the next month.
Bringing us an intimate and almost gritty style, Hooper's adaptation is a mammoth production, and its sets and style is matched by its acting and star quality. The film stars Hugh Jackman as the ex-con Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as his stalking policeman, Javert, as well as Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Anne Hathaway. Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen and Samantha Barks also co-star.
Although its story is a well known one, for those unaware i'll give you a quick catch up. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is an ex-con, who after spending 19 years in prison is finally released and let back into society. However after being branded a dangerous man, Valjean finds it impossible to get a job, but after a holy intervention involving some stolen candles and a run in with a bishop, he decides to escape his past, create a new identity and become an all round better person. Following his trail is the law abiding police inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe), who seems to have a thorn in his side about letting Valjean run away from his criminal past.
After a run in between the two, we switch to another strand of the story as we see Hathaway's Fantine, a mother to a young child, struggling to make end meets and sadly gets stuck being a prostitute to the wealthy and aristocratic. Following a stirring rendition of the famous 'I Dreamed A Dream', Fantine is rescued by Valjean, using her last breath to instruct him to collect her child, Cosette, and save her from life under the terrible care of the Thenardiers (Bonham-Carter and Baron-Cohen). Years later, in the setting of revolutionary France, Valjean has managed to dodge Javert and take care of the adopted Cosette, now much older (Amanda Seyfried). Things take a turn for the worse after a run in with Javert, as well as Cosette's old carers, the Thenardiers, all tangled into a rich love story in which rebel student Marius (Eddie Redmayne) falls for Cosette. After a battle in central Paris, the story begins to draw to a close, and the emotional finale won't leave a dry eye in sight.
Hooper's take on Les Miserables is refreshing and visually stunning. His use of hand held cameras not only helps create an intimiate atmosphere in the relationship between the characters and the audience, but it also gives us an authentic and genuine feel. Its overall message, and end product is messy, some story threads feel a bit all over the place, but to bring such a production together requires colosal effort and obviously superb direction, so Hooper must be praised for this gritty and endearing adaptation.
Hugh Jackman's Oscar nomination is throughly well deserved, throughout he is able to portray the complex and compelling nature of Jean Valjean almost effortlessly with weight and capability. His rendition of 'Valjean's Soliloquy' is one of the highlights of the film and while Anne Hathaway is taking all the plaudits, Jackman has proved he is a star of considerable depth. Of course the film's other highlight is Hathaway's portrayal of Fantine and in particular her rendition of 'I Dreamed A Dream', her performance is haunting and desperate, beautiful and striking. The manic struggle of her character is perfectly performed by Hathaway whose sorrow and depression will blow you away as well as surely give Hathaway her first Academy award.
Russell Crowe gives us a solid and straight performance as Javert, his singing has been criticised, but to the average ear his performances are more than fine. As I have never read the novel, i'm unsure about the depths in which we discover his character, but in the film, Hooper never delves into Javert, who appears a determined albeit almost sad character. We never know why he seems so obsessed with capturing Valjean, and why his sense of right and wrong is so clear cut. Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of Marius is intelligent and likeable while his chemistry with Amanda Seyfried is spot on. One of the under rated features of the film is surely Samantha Bark's rendition of 'On My Own'. Banks' character, Eponine, is love torn and complex, and her debut performance in a film is a real highlight as she plays the character with such sadness and resilience. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen add comedy value as well as an almost dickensian villainy, apart from that they both seem like characters right out of a Tim Burton film.
Les Miserables is an epic of huge proportions, gritty, stylish, and compelling. By the end, it may leave you feeling drained after two and a half hours of pretty intense emotion, and while its final message is muddled, it is also hard to fault in the way of acting and artistic direction. It will leave the die hard Les Mis fans more than happy while will also satisfy the dramatic appetites of new-comers. 4/5