150 years ago, Les Misérables, Victor Hugo’s magnum opus, was published after 17 arduous years of writing. On the first page lies a quote strongly encompassing the heart of the story: “Whether true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence on their lives, and particularly on their destinies, as what they do.” The story of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who is inspired to become a good man, has become a classic in writing, on stage, and now in film. Led behind the scenes by Tom Hooper, Oscar-winning director for The King’s Speech, the 2012 adaptation of Les Misérables is immaculate, and immensely cathartic.
Despite its being 160 minutes long, Les Misérables does not feel agonizingly lengthy; in fact, it seems concise, considering Hugo’s novel was a colossal 1500 pages. Fans of the musical will surely enjoy the powerful music resonant of the story’s dramatic themes. However, those who are less enthusiastic may not appreciate the extensive pathos, constant singing, or hurried cinematography, particularly during scenes of brutal battle. However, the preceding aspects of the film strongly parallel the instability of the setting, and the manner in which the characters attempt to cope with their tumultuous circumstances.
Perhaps the greatest virtue of the film is its tremendously talented cast. Hugh Jackman once again affirms his versatility as a performer, portraying Valjean with dynamic intensity. Although it was surprising to see Russell Crowe belt out a tune as the vindictive Javert, he strongly exuded the harsh obstinacy of his character, whose black-and-white views of justice are eventually subjected to cruel disillusionment. Anne Hathaway’s painfully poignant rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” as the destitute Fantine was enough to secure my belief that she should certainly be nominated for, and win, the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Interestingly, Hathaway has a unique connection to her role – her mother also portrayed Fantine, in the premiere American tour of Les Misérables.
Comic relief is provided in the form of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, who play dishonest and unlawful innkeepers, the Thénardiers. Samantha Barks is a standout as their daughter, Éponine, perhaps the most intriguing character, who is stricken with unrequited love and wishes to uphold a higher moral standard than her parents. Barks’ portrayal of the mature and valiant Éponine skillfully juxtaposes Amanda Seyfried’s serene and sheltered Cosette. Child actors Isabelle Allen and Daniel Huttlestone play the young Cosette and Gavroche, respectively, with extraordinary perception of their characters’ identities at a remarkably young age.
Overall, Les Misérables is as equally substantial as it is theatrical. Like Victor Hugo’s novel, the film successfully explores the essence of humanity, and what it truly means to be good. And for those reasons, I give Les Misérables 5 stars out of 5.
CC photograph courtesy of Flickr, found here.