by Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)
There are groups of people who are so passionate about a certain thing, others may deem it as a type of “cult” following. Be it Star Wars, professional sport teams, Twilight series (you Twihards know who you are), Harry Potter… the list is endless. Another group of people who can be considered in this “cult” following are those who love musical theater. Some people can sing every song to many of the plays, and have also seen these musicals performed by various casts over the years. From Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and Rent, to Wicked and The Lion King, musical theater has grown in popularity over the years. Now, one of its most well-known titles is once again on the big screen. Brought to us by director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), a new and wonderful version of the timeless Les Miserables.
If you have yet to see the musical live, read it in school, or see a previous film adaptation, allow me to break down the story. It begins in France during the year 1815. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has just finished serving a nineteen year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread and is being released. He has been branded a thief and is unable to find work or lodging anywhere, until a pious man opens up his house, gives him food, wine and a place to sleep. However, Valjean leaves in the night with silver, only to be caught. But the man said he gave Valjean the items, showing him kindness yet again; which, in turn, causes Valjean to turn over his life. He skips his parole and creates a new identity for himself.
Eight years later, Valjean is a wealthy factory owner, living in a new town under a pseudonym to hide from Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who has long been hunting him for breaking his parole. After taking care of a mortally-ill prostitute named Fatine (Anne Hathaway), Valjean swears to take care of her young daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), who is currently under the misguided care of Thenardier (Sasha Baron Cohen) and Madam Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter). Valjean pays for Cosette, and after almost being taken by Javert, disappears to start a new life again, this time with the girl as his “daughter.”
Almost ten years later and back in Paris, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) is now an adult and falls in love with a young revolutionary named Marius (Eddie Redmayne). Valjean now must deal with his daughter falling in love, avoiding Javert, and keeping himself and Cosette alive as the military falls upon the revolutionaries. He’s fought all these years to maintain his freedom and to provide a good life for himself and Cosette, how will Valjean deal with the winds of change and war?
Just as the sun will rise tomorrow, it’s pretty much guaranteed that two of the performances in Les Miserables will receive Oscar nominations. The transition of Hugh Jackman throughout the course of the film is pure joy to watch. He’s a man who has done wrong in his life and decides to make a change which, in turn, improves the lives of many around him. All the while, he must deal with his past and try to remain this good person while being pursued with the knowledge that, should he be caught, he’ll once again be imprisoned. Hugh Jackman also just happens to have pipes and carries the performance vocally. The other lock for an Oscar nomination is for the wonderful Anne Hathaway. Again, she’s another actress who happens to be able to sing extraordinarily well and brings so much depth and emotion to her performance. It’s nearly impossible not to feel the pain of Fatine. And though Anne is not in the film throughout its entirety, the mar she leaves vocally, emotionally and physically will leave you touched to the core.
Tom Hooper chose to do something different with this big screen version that had not been done before in any previous musical adaptations. He had the actors sing each take live! Usually, the tracks would have been pre-recorded months before and the casting choices made prior to actually meeting the other actors and really developing the characters and feelings in the moment. Not this time. The actors each had a small earpiece that would have live music played while they did their scenes. They were able to focus on the acting and bring the lyrics alive in the moment which created a whole new raw set of emotions and believability that hasn’t been seen in previous silver screen versions.
Les Miserables is only Tom Hooper’s fourth film to date, but based on this and The King’s Speech, it’s safe to say Hooper has a bright future ahead of him. The world of Les Miserables is brought to vivid life through Hooper’s vision with wonderful set pieces and costumes of the time, and through amazing performances and vocals from most of the cast, many other Oscar nominations should be in line. Fans of musical theater can be very critical of their shows being brought the screen, but even the hardcore Les Miserables fans shouldn’t find much to gripe about with this version. After watching the film, appreciation is garnered for the time we live and for what we have, and you leave the theater with not one song embedded in your heart, but a dozen.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars