A lot of the big directors in Hollywood ultimately become formulaic, as they don't stray from a specific genre of filmmaking. Director Tom Hooper has made the daring decision to step outside of his comfort zone with the musical Les Misérables. Movies in this genre can be unpredictable, since they have a very specific target audience and if they aren't made fully aware of the feature, it could go right under the radar. Since Tom Hooper has put together a picture that happens to have a large amount of support and an A-list cast, this shouldn't have a problem reaching musical-lovers. I have never been a big fan of the genre, but I can appreciate when it's done correctly. Les Misérables has its problems, but it's still a satisfying picture worth checking out.
In 19th century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is put on parole for life after stealing some bread to keep his family alive. He decides to begin a new life, so he breaks his parole, which leads a ruthless policeman by the name of Javert (Russell Crowe) to begin hunting for him. Valjean makes a promise to Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a factory worker, to care for her daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a younger Cosette and Amanda Seyfried as an older Cosette). This fateful decision causes a chain reaction of intertwined stories that will change their lives forever.
William Nicholson's screenplay instantly begins with a big musical number as a large amount of men are forced to pull ropes with a huge ship at the end. From this moment on, almost every word of dialogue is sung with lyrics written by Herbert Kretzmer. There's a constant use of rhymes throughout the feature and they're actually quite clever. Those who are like me and don't watch very many musicals will find it to take a little while for your ears to get used to it. After one adjusts to it, the intelligent writing can be appreciated to its fullest extent. While the characters sing the dialogue to each other, viewers get to see them voice their inner-most thoughts to the audience when they're on screen alone. Les Misérables interacts with moviegoers to keep us engaged in a musical theatre-type of way. Director Tom Hooper and writers William Nicholson and Herbert Kretzman apply elements from both live shows and the theatrical experience in order to tell the story in the best way possible.
I went into this musical without knowing very much about the plot, but it's an interesting story to follow. While our main characters are Jean Valean and Javert, it deals with a variety of different characters throughout. Some directors aren't able to handle this many sub-plots at once, but Hooper manages to keep it organized and straight-forward. The first hour had me entirely engaged, but then the pacing begins to slow down. There are numerous times through the remainder of the 157-minute running time where it drags, but it picks itself back up. However, it continues being dragged and picked back up until the credits begin to roll. After we're introduced to Marius (Eddie Redmayne), some portions of the movie become somewhat of an endurance test. While it doesn't deviate from the story, it stops in its tracks for a while and takes a while to continue on route. The ending stays true to the title, as this isn't a happy movie by any stretch.
This musical is filled to the brim with top-notch actors. Hugh Jackman is absolutely phenomenal as Jean Valjean. He delivers the large amount of character development beautifully throughout the movie. It isn't sudden and he makes the transition in a very genuine fashion. Russell Crowe interacts with Jackman wonderfully as Javert. He convincingly conveys a policeman who holds a lot of pain and depression within. Anne Hathaway doesn't have a lot of screen time, but she's outstanding as Fantine. Despite the length of her appearance, this is one of the best performances of her career. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen play a despicable couple by the names of Madame Thénardier and Thénardier. They both fit into the roles nicely as the utterly despicable characters. Samantha Barks does a great job as Éponine. This is a small supporting role, but she breathes a lot of depth into this character that wouldn't have been there otherwise. Les Misérables sports an insanely talented cast of actors.
The visuals you can see are wonderful, but the same cannot be said about everything you hear. While the costumes and set designs are award-worthy, I can't entirely stand behind every song this movie has to offer. Some of them are brilliant, while others are long and wearisome. There's an insane amount of vibrato with almost every character's voice, which gave me a headache by the time the credits were rolling. However, the audio track has been recorded very well. The singing sounds extremely detailed and the surrounds are given a real workout. I would like to give all of the songs high marks, but some of them are not up to par with the others.
Even though I'm not a big fan of musicals, I still find Les Misérables to be an enjoyable film. It has an incredible story to be told with cleverly written lyrics. The characters are conveyed as they should with outstanding performances. Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway all have a good chance of being nominated in the upcoming awards season. While this picture boasts a strong first hour, it begins to lose some of its steam later on. Most of the songs are great, but others aren't quite as strong and the constant vibrato can get irritating. Les Misérables is still definitely a worthwhile picture that had me enjoying a genre that I normally dislike. Those who like to hear singing with their cinema will be joyful this holiday season, but the more resistant moviegoers might not appreciate it quite as much. Tom Hooper's newest motion picture comes with a high recommendation to those who are curious about the story or enjoy the genre.