DIRECTOR: Tom Hooper
CAST: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne
RUNNING TIME: 157 minutes
RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)
Lavishly detailed sets and lots of close-ups make this an even more immersive experience than the staged production.
Not only is the music evocative, but the gorgeous visuals help to sweep you along on an adventure of romance, action and comedy.
The production design Oscar nomination is well deserved with huge, meticulous set pieces, eye-catching costumes and you see as much of the misery and filth below as you do of the bags under the actors’ eyes. The look is epic and it is a sumptuous feast for the senses.
But, buyer beware, this is a musical. Every little line is sung and almost every song from the original makes it into the movie, creating a bum-wriggling, lengthy tome. With music.
If you are into melodrama though, this works because each actor goes for the emotional jugular, squeezing as much pathos and emotional hand-wringing drama out of their roles as they can. Except for Russell Crowe, who gets to play baddy Javert, though you have to feel sorry even for him by the end of the film when he cannot reconcile his moral code with what the main character, Jean Valjean (Jackman), does to him.
Based on the Victor Hugo book which was turned into an extremely successful West End musical, the film sticks closely to the original musical with a new song and incidental music composed by one of the original composers.
Imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, Valjean breaks his parole after being inspired by a bishop’s act of kindness. He remakes himself as a successful businessman and mayor, but the dogged, and seriously moralistic policeman, Javert, sniffs him out.
Valjean takes in Cosette (Seyfried), the daughter of a dying prostitute, and this good act on his part changes his life as well as that of Javert.
At least half of the film plays out against the backdrop of the June Revolution of France so there are a host of desperate characters and fiery students seeking political change.
Not only is this a musical in which every word is sung, but none of it was pre-recorded so the actors’ singing determines the pace of the film, not the other way around.
The use of a steadicam in Jackman’s first musical number, The Soliloquy, points the way. The camera concentrates on faces, but creating the film also means we see so much more detail than we do on stage. So the opening sequence of prisoners hauling a ship into dry dock becomes mindbogglingly huge and the barricade becomes a monster of broken furniture and dreams.
Crowe is barely okay as a singer, Jackman is much better (providing a steady anchor as he creates a character who finds redemption through helping others), but it is Anne Hathaway who blows everyone away with her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream and Seyfried displays quite the range as Cosette.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter add a deliciously tongue-in-cheek touch of comedy as the Thénardier couple who initially take care of Cosette, and Samantha Barks is well-cast as Eponine, their self-loathing teenage daughter.
This film will divide opinion sharply – you’ll either love it or hate it – but it definitely provides the emotional punch when it counts, as long as you take it for what it is. A musical.
If you liked… ‘Phantom of the Opera’ or ‘Mamma Mia!’… you will like this.
WIN! WIN! WIN!