The motion picture version of the epic Musical Les Miserables wears its heart on its sleeve. With the actors singing live to camera and the emphasis on every raw emotion the actors can produce, this film feels very much like you’re on stage with the cast during a live performance. It’s bold, honest, but sometimes a little too intense. Despite the raw power of its cast however, the film itself isn’t quite as powerful.
Les Miserables is a French historical novel written by Victor Hugo in 1862, and adapted as a musical in 1980. It’s the musical version that has been adapted to screen, and would be film-goers beware it is almost exclusively sung. The plot centres on Jean Valjean in 19th Century France. Hunted by the devoted policeman Javert after he breaks parole, he agrees to raise Cosette, the daughter of a factory worker Fantine. The decision, the result of his own inadequacies, is one that will change his life.
It’s a very heady yarn filled with much moral ambiguity and a lot of questions about the nature of justice, religion, and romance. However no one is really questioning the source material, Les Miserables is a timeless story and a very well celebrated musical. The only real question is: Does this work on film?
For the most part, it does, and does so spectacularly. This is largely assisted by an extraordinary cast headlined by Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, and Russel Crowe. If Anne’s rendition of I Dreamed a Dream doesn’t leave you in tears then frankly you have no heart. For that matter, if the more emotional scenes especially the films final moments don’t at least touch you then there is something wrong. Hathaway and Jackman thoroughly deserve any awards coming there way, and Russel doesn’t deserve the criticism he’s received.
Director Tom Hooper deserves the credit for bringing out the best in the cast and bringing the rawness that is definitely this films strongest point. His Direction otherwise however leaves a lot to be desired. The film is void of a sense of location and jumps between broad sweeping camera shots to intensely long close-ups that leave all but the actors face out of focus for great lengths of time. Hooper catches the drama expertly, but he lacks balance so that by the end of the 157 minute run time you are quite worn out.
Les Miserables is an intense experience, one faithful to its Source and full of exceptional performances. What it lacks is more than adequately made up for and only those without a taste for musicals will find it difficult to watch. It is quite long, and the Director has made you feel that running time. Come prepared to cry if you are that way inclined, well even if you aren’t you probably will.