Preface: Believe it or not, I have never seen Les Misérables performed in the theater nor have I read the book. I have seen parts of the 1930’s film but otherwise I am a Les Mis newbie. This means I don’t have any frame of reference as to whether this version butchered or glorified the story.
That being said let me now say – wow. By the end of this film, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house…except mine. Sorry, I am a bit of a hard sell. Nonetheless, I heard sniffling and witnessed eye wiping all around me as the cast sang the finale. I have a question for all you Les Mis experts, is the stage play done as a musical or an opera? The movie was sung in its entirety, which I do believe classifies it as an opera of sorts. If I’m wrong on this, please correct me.
Regardless, Tom Hooper did an excellent job at exploiting the emotion in this heart-wrenching tale of French revolution misery. Some might say that there were too many close-ups during the solo performances, but I think that was a solid choice. I say that because in a theater performance the audience is only privy to one shot, a long or extreme long shot. A close up enables a viewer to connect to the pain written all over the face of the actor as they sing of their woes. The most touching was that of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) as she sings her iconic song, “I Dreamed a Dream.” Although I was sure they would use some of the long shots shown in all the previews with her singing but instead they chose a close up for the entire song. The filmmaker also chose to show Javert’s entire fall from the bridge, all the way down to him breaking his back on the jetty. I suppose it was symbolic of his broken soul that teetered on the edge throughout, but it did warrant a mild gasp.
It seemed obvious that the filmmakers chose to exploit all the angles, mise-en-scène, and realism that a theater performance would never be able to furnish. I, personally, appreciate it because I don’t want to see a theater performance on film – if I want to see theater, I’ll go in person. I know some get uncomfortable with excessive close up shots but I think it was only utilized when there was poignancy. As for talent, I think Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway outshone the rest of the cast. Jackman as Jean Valjean was perfect because the man is A) ridiculously talented and B) impossible to dislike. Hathaway was reaching deep for her part and I think she was successful in displaying complete despair. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were brilliant as the inn keeping con artists, which gave the dark story some much needed humor. Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne were also good, but not particularly exceptional.
I have to give the most credit to the director, Tom Hooper, for a fantastic rendition of a classic. I think he directed Hugh Jackman to an award winning performance (Golden Globe, anyone?). I think fans of the musical or the book should give this version a shot, even nubes will most likely enjoy it. However, be aware that EVERYTHING is sung. Final assessment: I highly recommend this film.