Ever since that fatal day back in 1985 at the well renowned Barbican theatre based in the heart of London’s glitzy West End, one musical more than most has captivated international audiences and set the benchmark for this particular art form. A cinematic interpretation has been stuck in limbo for many a year.. until now. Annointed the King of the Oscars back in 2011 with ‘The Kings Speech’, Tom Hooper finally brings ‘Les Miserables’ to the big screen. With an enthusiastic fanbase ready to warm up the vocal chords if a failure, has Hooper earned ‘One Day More’?
19th century France, a time when poverty, inequality and living in squalor reign supreme. Spanning across a mere two decades, we’re immediately thrown into the world of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). A remarkably strong ex-con albeit minor in his offence, his movements are forever mirrored after breaking parole by the remorseless Inspector Jalvert, played by fellow Aussie Russell Crowe.
A chance encounter however with the sympathetic factory worker by day/lady of the night Fantine (Anne Hathaway), lays the foundations to mount a relentless defence of his ‘freedom’ to roam. Weighed down by overwhelming disapproval from her fellow work colleagues, Fantine resorts to desperate tactics to provide for her beloved daughter Cosette. With her sense of dignity at its lowest ebb, Valjean shows no hesitation in taking on the responsibility of looking after the young girl. Cue unrequited love, revolutions and the obligatory vocal gymnastics.
Audaciously favouring the authenticity of a live performance instead of the monotonous nature of ‘lip synching’ is Hooper’s trump card here, amplifying the emotional heft to occasionally overwhelming levels. Anchoring the film with distinction, Jackman as Valjean clearly relishes the theatricality with a sincere and electrifying turn. Crowe’s grovelly and one-dimensional tone doesn’t always sit well with the operatic ‘complexion’ of the material, but his unflinching intensity (especially in exchanges with Jackman) and commitment to the role is undeniable.
The youthful talents of Eddie Redmayne (Marius) and Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) thoroughly impress, whilst Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen excel as a conniving double act providing crucial comic relief. The real showstopper here, is Hathaway. Her portrayal of Fantine is nothing short of heartbreaking, with her version of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ achingly perfect in delivery and the sequence’s composition.
If there is one drawback to the film, it’s Hooper’s hit and miss direction. For every soaring moment through intimate close-ups as characters emotions pour out as if wounded, there’s a disconcerting and sweeping aerial shot that whilst complimentary of the exemplary production value, feels a misguided move.
Sure, with no benefit of an interval its potentially exhausting 160 minute running time and emphasis on ‘suffering’ may prove to be the equivalent of an endurance test for some. However, the miniscule gripes don’t detract from the overall quality of Victor Hugo’s work’s transition from stage to screen. Brimming with remarkable performances and heart, ‘Les Miserables’ is a rousing and consistently brilliant cinematic experience worthy of immersing itself in the company of the genre’s top bracket.