I finished off a really good Christmas Day by seeing Les Miserables. To say I am a huge Les Miserables fan is an understatement. The book hooked me on literature and I have seen the musical 4 times. I always refer to the book by Victor Hugo as the first mini-series written because of the style and multi-plot lines it encased. When it was released in the 1800’s it sold over 100k copies and was translated into a dozen languages in the first month. For a time period when most people were still illiterate that was quite a feat. It is also the most popular musical in history. Think I am kidding about that? I read yesterday that the musical has sold over 60 million tickets worldwide in over 100 countries. With that kind of success Hollywood was sure to follow although past movie versions have fallen short.
I will start by saying Hugh Jackman deserves an Oscar for his performance. I know Daniel Day Lewis was great in Lincoln but Jackman absolutely shines in this movie from beginning to end. Most people will be surprised to learn Jackman is actually a bigger Broadway star than a movie star and in Les Miserables you see him combine all his talents. He etched Jean Valjean into your soul and the soul is what Les Miserables is about starting with how a priest with one set of candlesticks turns the life of a convicted thief around.
You know the Les Miserables you are seeing is a hit by the amount of sobbing going on. (Take tissues with you for no one is immune). You could hear a pin drop people were so glued to the screen except for when people were sniffing back tears or wiping their eyes. I have never seen Les Miserables when grown men didn’t break down (me included).
The movie version does something the stage version can’t. It brings the grit of the early 1800’s to the screen in all its squalor and grime. The director Tom Hooper didn’t hold back on the poverty and ill-fated lives that drove Hugo’s story.
I will mention three things that Hooper does that I really enjoyed in the film. I loved the way the barricade scenes were filmed. There was a realistic, emotional texture to them that captured the viewer. Also, there is a scene when Jackman’s Jean Valjean and a young Cosette escape into a convent. As they pass a chapel nuns are praying and singing ever so beautifully a choral piece – to me it sounded like it was in French but it isn’t on the soundtrack – while Jackman then sings in English. It meshes and is a very powerful moment. Also, Russell Crowe’s (Inspector Javert) suicide was filmed very uniquely.
There are no bad actors in this and what a cast it is with Jackman, Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne (brilliant job), Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonhem Carter. If there was a weak point – and I am saying this conditionally – it was Russell Crowe. Let me explain.
Crowe brings an emotional depth to Javert I have never seen on stage. Great acting. My only hesitation is his vocal range. His songs are well done. Don’t get me wrong about that. He pulls it off. However, the Javert’s songs are musically very, very, difficult and if you have seen it on stage you know that a baritone/bass with range can bring the house down with those songs. Crowe lacks that range. He does the music very well but compared to the stage he falls short. If you haven’t seen the musical you won’t know the difference. But as I said, he makes up for this in the acting because he conveys more emotionally with the character than I have ever seen.
If that is the worse I can say about this movie, you know you will be seeing an absolute hit. If you don’t know Victor Hugo, go see this movie. You will have your mind challenged, your soul challenged, morality re-defined, and your heart wretched from you by a master who knows what makes it beats.