Let’s start with this admission: I have always been a big fan of Les Miz, (I say this as I know there are many who are not). I’ve seen the Broadway production a couple of times and have the music on my iPhone, and have been known to sing “One Day More” in the shower (alright, I’ve shared enough). Anyhow, my expectations for the movie were sky high. And, wonderfully, the movie exceeded my expectations.
Let’s start with the cast. Anne Hathaway as Fantine is perfect. Though the role is rather small, her portrayal of the Job-like character is powerful. The scene in which she sells everything in order to save her child sets an emotional tone for the movie that never lets up. And her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” will not only win her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, it will also go down as a seminal scene in musical cinematic history.
However, the clear lead in this film is Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, and he delivers. He deftly takes us through decades of crime, forgiveness, redemption, and salvation. And through it all he makes you care deeply about his character, flaws and all. Additionally, he can flat out sing. When you see this performance, it’s almost difficult to remember that this is the same guy that played Wolverine.
The cast thrives under the direction of Tom Hooper (who will likely contend for an Oscar, though that field will be crowded with Tarnatino and Spielberg). He takes advantage of the magnitude that film can bring over stage. For example, the film opens with thousands of prisoners pulling a ship into port during a driving rain. It then cuts to Valjean walking through mountains and villages seeking shelter. Since this story has been so connected to the stage, its like Hooper opened the doors and unleashed it (while still staying true to the intimate storyline).
Conversely, at the appropriate times, he pulled things way in. Tight, long shots, focused on the actors as they sang their way through anguish, sorrow, and hope.
The film was great, though not perfect. Case in point: Russell Crowe. He clearly can’t sing, at least not in the same class as the others. When songs shifted from Jackman to Crowe, you almost felt bad for him. And while his character is ultimately pitiful, I don’t think this was the kind of pity he was going for.
Final Grade: A