Director Tom Hooper’s movie version of Cameron Mackintosh’s Broadway (and everywhere else) spectacular musical Les Miserables is an amazing film. Since I’m guessing that nearly everyone on the planet knows the story, I won’t rehash that. But I will say that this movie is an amazing accomplishment.
Hooper has taken a familiar tale, and made it better and larger than life. Because the film is not confined to the size of the Broadway stage, there are no limits to the visual impact of many of the scenes.The opening scene shows Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean serving prison time at hard labor. He and other prisoners are hauling a huge ship into a harbor in the pouring rain. The prisoners are watched over by Russell Crowe’s Inspector Javert, an uncompromising and unforgiving man. This opening scene shows us the vast scale of human suffering in a way not possible on the stage.
As surely everyone on the planet also knows by now, this production is entirely sung. Unlike other movie musicals, it was not pre- or post-recorded, but filmed as the actors were singing. This gives the film the realism that most musicals lack. Most of the actors in Les Miserables are not known for their singing voices. There are many singers out there with better voices. But the emphasis here is on the acting, which is only enhanced by the sometimes rough and relatively untrained singing voices.
The casting is brilliant. Only Jackman and Crowe are in the entire movie, so the other performances are relatively limited, but are none-the-less stunning and moving. The hair, make-up and costumes seem over-the-top and theatrical, but they do not detract from the gritty reality of the story. I was concerned that Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter would be their usual caricatures as the innkeeper Thenardier and his wife, but here they did not stand out as such.
This movie is very long by today’s standards (over 2-1/2 hours). We went to a 12 noon showing so we brought sandwiches and drinks with us-a good idea if I do say so myself! Last month Jay Weston in the Huffington Post proclaimed Les Miserables as possibly the best movie he’s ever seen. I’m still thinking about that, but it is a stunning accomplishment. Bring the snacks, bring the hankie, and absorb one of the most original productions to come along in a long time.