2010's, Aaron Tveit, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Hathaway, Colm Wilkinson, Daniel Huttlestone, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Jackman, Isabelle Allen, Les Misérables, Musical, Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Tom Hooper
- Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean
- Russell Crowe as Javert
- Anne Hathaway as Fantine
- Amanda Seyfried as Cosette
- Eddie Redmayne as Marius
- Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier
- Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier
- Samantha Barks as Éponine
- Aaron Tveit as Enjolras
- Isabelle Allen as Young Cosette
- Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche
- Colm Wilkinson as Bishop Myriel
Based on the well-known musical, which in turn was inspired by Victor Hugo’s epic novel, Les Misérables is a sprawling tale of love, sadness and revolution. Directed by Tom Hooper and boasting a stellar cast, it is a film that won’t disappoint lovers of the musical. It isn’t a film for everyone, but has many positives to talk about, mainly the songs and the strong performances of the cast in this epic story.
The film starts in 1815. Jean Valjean is a convict who has been serving a 19 year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving relatives. Jean is granted parole by Javert, a captain who tells him to honor what the parole agreement says or he will be found out sooner or later. Unable to find employment, he takes refuge in a church ran by the kindly Bishop Myriel. In the night, Jean steals his silver but is late reprimanded. Instead of turning him in, the bishop saves Jean and urges him to do something good in his life. Jean Valjean taking this into consideration, decides to break his parole and begin his life again. Eight years later, under a new identity, he is the respected mayor of a French town who also owns a factory. Although seemingly happy with his new existence, he is still haunted by the memory of the obsessive Javert. His fear comes true when Javert arrives in town as the new chief of police. Another thread in Valjean’s story is the tale of a young grisette named Fantine. She is fired from her job in one of his factories after it emerges that she has an illegitimate child named Cosette, who she regularly sends money to as the girl is living with the swindling Thénardiers . Penniless and desperate, the tragic Fantine sells her hair, teeth and eventually her body in order to provide for her daughter. Valjean finds Fantine in the gutter, slowly succumbing to illness. On her deathbed, he promises her he will take care of Cosette. After paying the innkeepers in charge of Cosette, Jean is discovered by the determined Javert. Taking Cosette he narrowly flees from Javert. Nine years later, poverty is rising and rebellion is in the air in Paris. A now grown up Cosette catches the eye of a young firebrand named Marius, who immediately falls for her. His close friend Éponine, secretly pines for Marius but it is all in vain as he falls for Cosette and revolution starts to grow around them. Heartbreak, emotion-filled songs and an epic sweep all abound as Les Misérables makes the transition from stage to screen with positive results.
The first thing to notice about Les Misérables is the fact that the actors sing live, rather than mime along to a pre-recorded track. In many cases this technique works as it captures the raw emotion of the character’s feelings. The use of close-ups in these songs will put off many, but for me it showed the passion of the actor singing the songs. Sweeping camera angles and an excellent colour scheme add to the visual impact, especially in the opening scene when Jean along with multiple prisoners is pulling a large boat and the violent waves add to their struggle. The visuals of the drab streets and dark corners helps back up the almost mournful landscape that the characters populate. The many splashes of colour in the later half of the film add to the rebellion as violence and anger erupts.
A big draw is the talented cast that Hooper has assembled to flesh out this tale. Hugh Jackman gives a towering performance as Jean Valjean, capturing the way he rises from destitution to honorable man, navigating his way through a cruel world. His vocals are very impressive to, adding to the overall powerful portrayal that anchors the movie. Russell Crowe, although not quite as vocally adept, manages to be quite convincing as the obsessed Javert, whilst showing an occasional soft side. It isn’t one of Crowe’s best performances, but it isn’t one of his worst either. Anne Hathaway turns in an Oscar-winning performance as the tragic Fantine, and although she’s only on the screen for around 20 minutes, manages to make an indelible mark. Her triumph is her rendition of “I Dreamed a dream”, which is one of the most emotional and heartbreaking moments I’ve seen in a film for a long time. Captured in one continuous shot, Fantine, her hair cropped, her clothes torn and her spirit broken, sings of a longing for a better day whilst breaking the audience’s hearts along the way. Hathaway’s performance is one that lingers long in the memory because of its emotional impact. Amanda Seyfried is suitably wistful as Cosette, although I would have liked for her character’s arc to have been expanded a little. Eddie Redmayne certainly delivers as the passionate Marius who falls for her. Redmayne infuses “Empty chairs at empty tables”, a hymn for the fallen, with a sincerity and sadness that is quite remarkable. Providing comic relief are Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as unscrupulous swindlers. Another person who certainly impresses is Samantha Barks as the lovelorn third wheel of Marius and Cosette’s love, Éponine. She imbues her with a sweetness and deep sadness that is luminous to witness. Her bruised performance of “On my own”, which she sings whilst in the rain, is a stunningly heartfelt moment. Other supporting members include Aaron Tveit as revolutionary Enjolras, a sweet Isabelle Allen as the young Cosette, Daniel Huttlestone as the funny and endearing Gavroche and Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop who helps Jean in his journey.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, Les Misérables will not be a film for everyone as the live singing and use of close-up’s may cause a few to roll their eyes. But if you want a musical with a sweeping score, some excellent acting and historical setting, it may just be for you.