Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: Claude-Michel Schoneberg & Alain Boublil (Show Book), Herbert Kretzmer (Lyrics), James Fenton (Additional Text[?]), and William Nicholson (Screenplay)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helen Boham Carter
We begin with song as prisoners toil to bring a listing French war ship into dry dock. At the end of their day of labor Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is presented his release on parole by Officer Javert (Russell Crowe). Branded as a former criminal for life Valjean is unable to find work and is harassed by the people. Eventually he finds sanctuary in a monastery through the kindness of the Monsignor. The kindness is repaid by theft as Valjean steals the silver in the night, but is quickly caught by the authorities and brough back to the monastery. But there he does not find condemnation but forgiveness.
The Monsignor once again extends a hand of friendship and gives Valjean the silver and a second chance. Overcome by the act, Valjean becomes a changed man. Renouncing his old life he also renounces his name and becomes Monsieur Madeleine. Years pass and he becomes a successful factory owner and town mayor. But then Inspector Javert enters his life again. Suspicious of Valjean after an extraordinary display of strength rescuing someone beneath a horse cart, Javert inquires into “M. Madeleine’s” past. But his suspicions are initially proved false when he discovers that Valjean has been recently captured and will face a court for breaking his parole. Once informed of this, the real Valjean suffers a guilty conscience for the wrongly prosecuted man and reveals his true identity. What follows is a cat and mouse game between Valjean and Javert through years, cities, and history by the end of which both become changed men.
Forgetting this is a film and not a Broadway show, William Nicholson the screenwriter is too slavishly loyal with his adaptation. Though I have not seen the show yet, it is obvious by the lovers that fall too quickly in love–Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) & Marius (Eddie Redmayne)–and the disjointed lapses in time within the same segment–Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) fall from grace–that the screenplay does not veer far from the show book. What works on the stage where there is greater audience suspension-of-disbelief comes across as lazy writing of character development & motivation in a film. With the exception of Valjean throughout the film and Fantine in the beginning, why any character does anything is never properly shown. Also, great Hollywood musicals are films where characters speak to each other with dialogue and only break out into song at pivotal moments. Having every spoken word sung causes a distraction to regular dialogue and minimizes those moments where the songs are meant to be impactful.
As for the direction, Tom Hooper in wanting the audience to make sure we aware that the actors in fact sang while they were being filmed choses to show almost every scene in close-up. Though this is a powerful choice with the emotional solos of Fantine and Valjean, it becomes nauseous when more than three actors are involved and the shot is constantly cutting between performers. That being said, the choice of actually filming the actors sing their performance was an excellent one.
Anne Hathaway is rightfully praised for her performance of Fantine, and her moving rendition of I Dreamed a Dream. Hugh Jackman also holds his own both musically and by his acting as Jean Valjean. Russell Crowe has been unfairly maligned with his singing performance as Javert. When called to sing during the powerful songs and his solos Crowe succeeds, but falters with the sung dialogue. Eddie Redmayne is the biggest surprise as Marius, both for his acting and vocal abilities. Sacha Baron Cohen & Helen Boham Carter steal every scene they are in as the married con-artists and comic relief.
The set design is interesting; almost a stage production on steroids. The backgrounds are noticeably askew and a little unbelievable, but appropriate to the story. They are off, but in a good way.
Les Miserables in the end is a flawed film with great performances. The end of the film is emotional and impactful, but does not make up for what comes before. I was left more with a feeling of what could have been.
Grade = C