Les Misérables (dir. Tom Hooper, 2012) – Inspector Javert goes on a persistent chase after Jean Valjean who breaks parole to save Fantine’s daughter in his search of redemption.
Les Misérables translates beautifully on screen with ardour and pathos, accomplished with an outstanding soundtrack and many heart-wrenching moments.
I never had the chance to watch the musical on Broadway. I watched Les Misérables in the cinema without knowing what to expect, and liked it more than I thought I would. Against suppression and for revolution, the men and women of the story overcome insurmountable odds through faith and sacrifice.
Director Tom Hooper’s emotional adaptation is a commendable amalgam of bold choices. Breaking ground with live singing and not pre-recorded studio tracks, the actors must cope without lip-syncing and the comfort of studio tricks. It works, giving off raw realism that seldom comes through in on-screen musicals.
His lengthy close-ups however prove a questionable choice. Excessive closing in and fidgety camera movements feel de trop and distracting, though extra pressure is placed on the cast to deliver strength in their emotions.
The moments remain haunting. The first of which begins with released prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in his search for meaning and liberation. Against the persistent chase of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), his plight of societal rejection has him belting out a convincing desperation in his gaunt frame. The very apparent physical sacrifice chooses realism over glamour in this grounded production.
Another victim of class divides, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) makes visible her pain of falling through the cracks. I Dreamed A Dream is itself imbued with tragic despair, only made stronger with Hathaway’s powerful connection. She lays open, conveying ache in her vulnerable eyes and quivering lips. An affecting draft of despondence in her voice must have broken hearts.
Samantha Barks reprises her stage role as the unrequited lover Éponine. The talented singer finds her fit in the role like no other can. She shines with On My Own, echoing melancholy of her loneliness in the pouring rain. Touching is her beautiful heartfelt duet of A Little Fall of Rain with Marius (Eddie Redmayne) against the horrors of war.
Eddie Redmayne delivers his own lingering performance. With his natural air of genuine sincerity, he is at his best when mourning for his fallen comrades in the lyrically powerful Empty Chairs At Empty Tables.
There to be saved, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) has few opportunities to flesh out her character. She also shares less chemistry with Redmayne than Barks did. Still, she hands in an excellent voice as part of the trio in A Heart Full of Love. Russell Crowe had no such luck, his very flat singing voice detracting from his well-acted performance that eventually lacks emotional impact.
Nevertheless, Les Misérables stands as an emotive, poignant story sans dialogue on the whole. The threads of varying lives come together well in a moving and sombre tragedy beyond the crime of one. The many commanding performances sew in the tour de force with a striking, memorable finale.