As someone who has no history with Les Miserables (whether it be the novel, the countless films or any of the stage productions), dislikes the musical genre and thinks Tom Hooper is one of the most overrated directors working today, Les Miserables had a lot going against it. Despite some ridiculous directorial choices on the part of Tom Hooper, Les Miserables is quite a success. An engaging story and a talented cast make this film soar.
Les Miserables begins as we meet Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman), a Frenchman who is sentenced to hard labor after stealing a loaf of bread. He is released but on parole. When he is fortunate enough to meet a generous priest, Valjean breaks his parole and vows to start a better life. However, this sends the strict Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) on his tail as this starts a series of events that continue through the following decades. The film is directed by Tom Hooper and is written by William Nicholson and Herbert Kretzmer from the play by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg.
The source material for this film is clearly powerful as it is able to survive a few missteps on the part of Tom Hooper without the film suffering. Everything in this film is stylized to the nth degree. Every camera angle is set to drastic lengths (including some Dutch angles for no real reason at all). Oddly, the much talked about “live scenes” are very infrequent. There is of course the “I Dreamed a Dream” sequence, a song with Hugh Jackman and a song with Samantha Barks, but other than that all of the other major song sequences have clear and major cuts in the middle of them.
However, that is it for the complaining as this film has a fantastic ensemble. Hugh Jackman delivers his best performance yet as Jean Valjean. I think it might just be good enough to be included on the same tier as Wolverine in terms of his most iconic performances. The man just disappears into the role and gives it his all. His singing is pretty good to boot. Anne Hathaway gets best in show status. She doesn’t get much screentime but her “I Dreamed a Dream” performance is easily one of the best-acted sequences of the year as she goes for broke with it. Meanwhile Eddie Redmayne, who has always been a consistent actor that has been unable to breakout, might have just delivered a performance that will bring him to superstardom. Another breakthrough performance belongs to Samantha Barks as Eponine. It’s a short role but Barks gives some added depth to it and is one of the better singers in the cast. The most controversial aspect of the film’s cast is Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert. Some reviewers and viewers have made his singing out to be like it actually hurts your ears. That is further from the truth as his singing is not a problem at all. It’s just a deeper voice than everyone else in the cast, which works because he is clearly a character that has a different view of the world from everyone else. Plus Crowe brings a lot of gravity to the role and is the perfect foil to Hugh Jackman.
Despite a few problems here and there (mainly with Tom Hooper’s direction), Les Miserables turns out to be one of the better film musicals out there with the help of a stellar cast.