Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Directed by: Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”)
Written by: William Nicholson (“Gladiator”)
Whether you jump on board for the most recent cinematic adaptation of “Les Misérables,” based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel, will all depend on two major decisions Oscar-winning filmmaker Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) made to separate it from other versions of the musical that have come before. Of those two choices, one will more than likely earn an actress her first Academy Award of her career. The other is a debauched experiment in the actual framework of the musical. It’s sure to have anyone sitting on the fence reconsider giving the genre another chance after what can only be described as a grandiloquent mistake.
In “Les Misérables,” Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, an ex-prisoner who finds a new meaning to his life when he agrees to take care of Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a child; Amanda Seyfried as a young woman). Cosette is the daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a worker at one of Valjean’s factories who is forced into a life of prostitution to pay her debts. Oscar winning actor Russell Crowe, who is completely miscast in this production, plays Javert, a police inspector who has long searched for Valjean for breaking parole years before.
Hooper’s first decision, which is likely to send actress Anne Hathaway to the podium for an Oscar come February, is having all the musical performances sung live. While most musicals shoot actors lip syncing their parts and dubbing them in post-production, allowing Hathaway and others to break from the normal practices and sing from within was the right call by Hooper. It is especially evident in Hathaway’s moving performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” which captures the depth of the entire musical in a single powerful scene.
What else Hooper demands of his musical in a larger sense, however, is what ultimately takes ““Les Misérables” from an epic period drama into an indistinct collection of classic songs that would be better experienced listening to the film’s soundtrack. Instead of interspersing the musical numbers with dialogue, Hooper insists every word of the narrative be sung. By doing this, the intimacy, anger, or any number of other emotions the characters are supposed to share between each other is whittled down into awkward exchanges.
Despite the inevitable humming of the songs that will come after seeing the film, not much else will stick from “Les Misérables” aside from the beautiful technical aspects, including the costume design and art direction. For a narrative so swathed in raw emotion, however, Hathaway’s lone performance (and a memorable supporting role by theatrical actress Samantha Barks as Eponine) will make the only true connection.