A novel so renowned that its adaptations are in the dozens, none more popular than the musical of which it spawned and opened in 1985 in London. The original novel by French playwright and poet that focuses on the French revolution and several core characters of which are entangled amongst it is churned into a sung-through musical, with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. Classed as one of the greats which stands firm as one of the most popular, sought-after musicals today, it's never received quite the adaptation as Tom Hooper's rendition.
During early 19th Century France, ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released on parole after serving nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread for starving relatives before he flees and escapes, taking on a new identity after a bishop inspires him to start anew. While relentless police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) tracks him down, Valjean finds a new perspective in life after starving prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway) beckons her young daughter upon him, saving her from selfish innkeepers Thénardier (Sacha Baron Coen) and Madame Thénardier (Helena Bonhham Carter). It's these and a slew of idealists who become embroiled in a last, important stand in an important period in France.
A roaring opening number pits Valjean, a burly peasant with abnormal strength, and a hundred downtrodden others as they haul an enormous, bulking ship into the docks whilst overseer Javert stand on the throne, encapsulating a power that instantly dominates the screen. Frantically, it introduces both musically and characteristically the sheer power behind Les Mis' backbone, between Schonberg's hearty, empowering music and the stand-out performance of Jackman.
While the former is an esoteric musical, aiming primarily at fans of Les Mis itself and the general idea of a musical, the star quality of Hooper's film and his overall achievement at successfully balancing between a historically important drama and the rare recordings of live vocals, thus transcending a dozen musical numbers into raw, emotionally-empowering moments of cinema, requires the attention of general filmgoers. This is a film to introduce us into the New Year, it's a feat unmanaged by others.
With a cast as enormous as this, it alarms that stars such as Anne Hathaway and Amanda Seyfried are reduced to performances which are on-screen for approximately fifteen-to-twenty minutes. While the latter isn't particularly anything special, her chemistry with My Week with Marilyn's Eddie Redmayne is delightful, thus romantically dominating the film as their sweet, almost poetic singing stuns and, for Redmayne, astounds. And while her performance is a catalyst for the vast majority of the film's happenings, Hathaway's Fantine is a stand-out performance, worthy every second of the recent Academy Award nomination. Desperation leads her to prostitution, doing everything possible to supply for her illegitimate child in current care of the dastardly, money-laundering mitts of the preposterous innkeepers Coen and Carter -- both providing momentary, comedic interludes. Flawlessly, she crams a raw, emotionally-dominating performance that could span the wilds of the film's entire three-hour duration into a stunning twenty minutes, with the show's power number "I Dreamed a Dream" sung with heartbreaking rawness and absolute precision for the measure.
Jackman, however, provides nothing but an astounding, cautionary bravado, overflowing with sentiment and a blatant joy for the character with the professionalistic realism and an abundance of vivacity and vigour than any who past played Valjean -- despite reports of him unable to successfully dominate the role. And while Crowe's intensely deep vocals may appear the most dominant and frankly manly aspect of Les Misérables, Jackman triumphs impeccably over his on-screen rival.
Tremendous, deeply emotional core musical numbers dampen as much as they uplift, with enough brava and intended applause that any showing of Les Mis, film or show, should ever receive. It's a feat from Hooper, encapsulating the chaos and ensuing inspiration to win as well as transcending novel and stage to screen, which should inspire others to attempt. A roaring success from most involved, with outstanding, musically career-defining performances from Jackman, Hathaway and Redmayne.
Verdict: Overlong, but packs way too many a powerhouse punch to refuse it. Phenomenal performances and musical numbers deem it a must-watch for any musical fan, and an introduction to others who aren't too sure of where they stand with them.