For those who aren’t familiar with the musical, Les Miserables is an epic where the romances and tragedies of the characters all meet, in one way or another, at the barricade in the first ramshackle bands of rebels in the French revolution. The primary focus in on Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman); a convict who, upon finding redemption in an old priest, tries to live a good and God fearing life, but his past will not stay behind him, as obsessive lawman Javert (Russell Crowe) hounds him throughout his entire life.
There has been a lot of bad press about Crowe’s singing in this film, and although he obviously doesn’t have the same musical theatre chops as Jackman, he’s no Pierce Brosnan. Crowe’s imposing screen presence perfectly suits the role of Javert, and the fact that his singing isn’t as good as Jackman’s just serves to make him an even more un-likable villain.
With the opening shot of a gigantic ship being hauled into a dock, Hooper makes it clear from the start that he is taking full advantage of the fact that this is a film and not a stage-production. As well as grand, sweeping shots over landscapes and cities to set the scene, he is very fond of close-up shots, and although they can be a little bit jarring (actors stare right into the camera), they make for an effective frame for a solo song. Anne Hathaway’s Fantine is the standout performance of the film, even if it is regrettably brief. She brings a fragility and sadness to ‘I dreamed a dream’ which, coupled with Hooper’s extended close-ups, would be simply impossible on the stage.
The production is an adored classic, and there was a chance that this film would upset many dedicated fans. However, he has stayed true enough to the show (even if there was a new, slightly weaker, song added to the score), to keep the purists happy, while bringing enough to the table that audiences won’t leave thinking they might as well have seen it live.
That being said, the films length is a somewhat unavoidable issue; theatre having the advantage of an interval. There is a very clear dividing point, and although it doesn’t make the story any harder to follow, it may test the patience of those less familiar with the story that there’s another half of the film to go.
It is the strength of the original score, however, that should keep audiences going through the running time; and Hooper has done enough with it to keep them in their seats and, often, break out into spontaneous applause over the end credits.
Les Miserables is now showing at the Broadway cinema.