Movie review – Soaring voices tell a timeless tale

2013-01-20 10:00

Film: Les Misérables (UIP)

Director: Tom Hooper

Featuring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks

Rating: 8/10

Victor Hugo’s story – and the musical that was created from it – is epic in the true dictionary definition of the word.

It is a long, poetic composition centring on the redemptive tale of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), the hero of the piece.

Like the other film opening this week, Django Unchained, it is about one’s man fight against the system to save those he loves.

But unlike Quentin Tarantino’s film, this one tells its story with music so stirring it will make you want to leap upon furniture and belt out Do You Hear the People Sing?

It is so heart-rending, you will need a lot of tissues and dark glasses afterwards. (I started crying about 20 minutes in and kept on weeping until the final chorus two and a half hours later.)

Like Django, Valjean is given a leg up by a surprising act of kindness.

This is the beginning of Valjean’s story, of becoming a better man – one who helps those around him not to end up in jail for, like him, stealing a crust of bread.

But it is the act of making a promise to Fantine (Anne Hathaway) that drives Valjean to ever greater acts of valour to save her child Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and later the man she loves.

But Valjean’s path to redemption isn’t steady. He is pursued relentlessly by Javert (Russell Crowe), a policeman who sees life in right and wrong.

Once wrong has been committed, in his view, no amount of right can rub it out.

This principle is tested as the two men bump and jostle along through a maelstrom of experiences over the decades.

It is a complex relationship that drives the narrative.

Javert isn’t a bad man, just a merciless one. Valjean has done wrong, yet social pressures drove him to it.

The story begins in the early 1800s in France, 20-odd years after the French Revolution, though little has changed for the poor.

Having swapped their king for an emperor, the people find that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The backdrop to Valjean’s personal story is thus that of a brewing revolution.

This broader canvas informs the story of Valjean and Cosette, and they are ultimately on a collision course with history.

Les Misérables opened on stage in London in 1985 and has been running ever since – there and around the world.

The film rights were sold more than a quarter of a century ago, but like with so many projects, it had to wait for the perfect storm to bring it to the screen.

This is a ground-breaking film and director Tom Hooper took on a gargantuan task with this production, making his cast – now famously – sing their songs in one take on set into close-up cameras.

The result is breathtaking. Even for a die-hard theatre fan like me, this film version is a definitive one.

Sure, there is no substitute for live performance, but this film brings one of the greatest musicals and finest social novels to a vast audience, and that is always a good thing.

The star-studded cast pull together like a supportive ensemble and the balance is perfect – dark, light, wide-ranging, up-close.

Keep an ear out for the magnificent voices of Eddie Redmayne (as Marius) and Samantha Barks (as Éponine). Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream has won her a Golden Globe and Hugh Jackman is unlucky he has to face off against Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln). All in all, Bring Him Home is likely to refer to Oscar in this version of Les Misérables.

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