I’ve never been so happy to be so sad.
Based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, the blockbuster musical “Les Misérables” (French for “The Miserable”) is very aptly named — it’s nearly a three-hour sob-fest.
The story spans 18 years of the life of Jean Valjean, played by seasoned song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman. The movie opens with his release from a French prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Valjean breaks parole and reinvents himself into a successful, upstanding citizen, but is pursued his entire life by police officer Javert, who is played by a surprisingly riveting Russell Crowe.
In the film, set during the French Revolution, Valjean and Javert clash amidst various settings of unrest and uprising throughout France. Beyond the rebellion, the supporting cast struggles to survive amidst extreme poverty and battles with the decision between love and duty to the revolution.
“Les Misérables” is an operetta — most of the dialogue is sung, along with the large musical numbers. Vocally, the cast is stellar. Anne Hathaway steals the show as Fantine with her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” a performance only rivaled by “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables,” sung by Eddie Redmayne as Marius.
Possibly the most impressive aspect of “Les Misérables” is the way the musical numbers were filmed. All of the singing was done live in the scenes, not during post-production in a recording studio. This technique really highlights the talent of the actors — it takes a lot to deliver riveting vocal performances while still maintaining control of the scenes and delivering real and raw emotions in their expressions.
The only qualm I have with the movie is director Tom Hooper’s filming style. The cameras are tight on faces, relying heavily on close-ups throughout of the film. While this does highlight the drama of strong facial expressions, it blocks out the actors interactions with their surroundings and masks the intricacies of the set design. Still, from a purely entertainment standpoint, the camera angles pale in comparison to the strength of the performances.
If you’re not down to cry during a movie, “Les Misérables” is not for you. However, don’t discount this as just another tear-jerker — with moving characters, plotlines, and ridiculously awesome vocal performances, “Les Misérables” is a powerful film, start to finish.