Musicals don’t require balls? Tell that to Tom Hooper. The Academy Award winning director of The King’s Speech makes his return with the big screen adaptation of the beloved musical Les Miserables, based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo. The novel, over a thousand pages in length, is brought to the screen with a 2 hour and 38 minute runtime. While it certainly moves a lot slower than other movies of the same running time, like say The Dark Knight Rises, Les Miserables still remains to be an impeccably staged, boldly realized, and unprecedented musical that ranks itself as one of, if not the best musical I’ve ever seen. Granted, that previous statement must be accompanied with the fact that I am not a musical person. I actually would go as far as to say that I hate them. The only musical that I can say I’ve seen, and liked, prior to Tom Hooper’s massive entry, is Tim Burton’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd. I personally loved that film. So, is Les Miserables as good, or even better, than Todd? Being that they both deal with different themes and subject matter, that can’t be compared. But, as it stands, Les Miserables, as a musical, is majestic.
Set in the 1800s during the time of the French Revolution, the classical story of Les Miserables follows Jean Valijean, a prisoner sentenced to be a slave for stealing a loaf of bread. After breaking his parole, Jean sets out to change his identity and start a new and successful life. Among the story are other character lines, and they all merge together into the ascending French Revolution.
I have personally never read the classic book nor have I seen any previous adaptations, movie or musical. Now, I can enjoy both of them in one. Believe me when I say that Les Miserables is a musical. This movie is virtually all singing. Actually maybe only five percent of the dialogue is spoken as normal dialogue. Is that a bad thing? It depends how you take it. I personally find the idea of characters singing their lines back and forth to resonate awkwardly. It just feels unrealistic. Is that so in Les Miserables? In a way. However, with characters that are written to sing their lines, you need good actors, and good singers. Well, it’s all top notch in this film, which features great performances all around, but two of them actually offer the best performances of their careers. We’ll go ahead and get the two out of the way, and they are the two everyone is talking about. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Many people are hyping Daniel Day Lewis to win the Best Actor nomination in the upcoming Oscar race. Will it happen? Probably. However, out of the four open spots left after the certainty of Lewis at least being nominated, one of them must be sealed for Hugh Jackman. I have always been a fan of his work, and even though I would rather forget the third X-Men and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it is still undeniable that he does his best to make a movie good. I have no shame in saying that even though I have seen Jackman in movies that I like better than Les Miserables, this is without a doubt the best performance of his career. His performance is raw, real, and powerful, bringing me to tears in a few scenes. He deserves any award he garners. And if Jackman is mentioned, it would be a crime not to mention the performance of Anne Hathaway. Also in the best performance of her career. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is one of the most moving sequences in a movie all year. Sure, that can be somewhat to director Tom Hooper for doing a continuous shot. Yes, that song is sung by Hathaway with no camera cuts. In other words, she actually sings the song continuously, never pausing for another camera angle, and her emotion is vividly portrayed through her facial expressions. Despite only having a small amount of screen time, it would take a fool to think that she doesn’t deserve an Oscar. Not just a nomination. Hand her the trophy. She more than earns it here. Also along the cast, a very talented actor who has been hit hard with musical criticism: Russell Crowe. Why is he receiving this criticism? No idea. He is phenomenal in this film. And I mean phenomenal. Now is his singing as good as Jackman’s or Hathaway’s? No. But he does more than enough to get us where we need to go. And he does a bang up job doing it. I’m nowhere close to being a music critic, but I know that even as someone who doesn’t like musicals, I found Russell Crowe’s voice, and performance in general, to be quite riveting. Also among the cast are Amanda Seyfried, an actress I don’t really care for, but she does a good job here; Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, who both provide comic relief; and the rest of the cast is great, with no major complaints to report.
The stars center the stage, but it’s who stands behind the camera that really makes this film what it needs to be, and that would be Tom Hooper. After directing the fantastic HBO mini series John Adams and winning an Academy Award for Best Director in the 2010 Best Picture winner The King’s Speech, Hooper has proved he has an eye for history and adapting it to film. Although knowing nothing but the premise of the smashing musical Les Miserables, I somehow knew that Tom Hooper was the perfect choice for the directing position of this material. And right I was. Hooper does an astounding job. Much like he did in King’s Speech, and to perhaps greater effect here, Hooper uses his signature style of placing his characters to either side of the screen, while allowing the background and surroundings to fill the screen and become characters themselves. It is rare, but it works to mesmerizing effects, especially when accompanied by the gorgeous set design and cinematography. Everything from the costumes, set design, filming locations, and special effects are top notch in Les Miserables. It all looks stunningly beautiful. Also, Hooper had major balls when he decided to take an unprecedented step and enforce his actors to go against the typical routine of musical movie making. Instead of singing in a studio then lip syncing on set, Hooper just grew a pair and said, “let’s sing our songs on set.” The result? The raw emotion that is portrayed through the actors. It is all gutsy and simply astonishing, and probably the best decision he’s made as a director.
All that being said, this film does have a few flaws. It is too long. Maybe that’s just my opinion, but I don’t usually mind long movies. This movie runs at 158 minutes, and it really drags. The main fault for that is just a few song choices that I feel didn’t have any necessary inclusions to the plot, or movie in general. Some of them felt awkward and overlong. That, believe it or not, is the only gripe I had with this film.
So in the end I will say that Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the beloved classic is a triumphant one, combining great music, powerful performances, and fantastic direction. Les Miserables is the best musical I’ve seen in years.
Run time: 138 mins
Rated: PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence, and thematic elements
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Helena Bonham Carter
Written by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil
Directed by Tom Hooper