Being a fan of musicals, I was somewhat skeptical when going to the cinema to see Les Misérables by Tom Hooper. Film plus musical – can this combination be successful? The only example that popped in my head was The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews. I was curious to see how the historical novel by Victor Hugo was interpreted in 2012.
The opening scene is breathtaking and powerful: convicts on the galleys, repairing ships while serving their sentences. Among them is Jean Valjean, who has been there for nineteen years (for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving family). Although Valjean is exhausted morally and physically, he never gives up hope for freedom. Finally, he is released, however, with a yellow “passport” of a criminal which has to be presented to the local authorities in every town he passes by. Hugh Jackman, who I’ve known before mostly from the X-men films, has totally convinced me with his spectacular performance. Not only is he changing together with his character through the story, he is also singing as if he has been doing it his whole life! Strong and confident, Jackman shows that he is a man of many talents.
Another storyline is the one of a single mother Fantine who is trying to make the ends meet. Due to intrigues and an argument, started by her jealous colleagues she is fired and is, therefore, doomed: poverty in Les Misérables is fatal. Day by day, Fantine has to sell literally everything she owns in order to pay an innkeeper and his wife who take care of her little daughter Cosette. Anne Hathaway’s performance is dramatic and touching, and her songs can leave no one indifferent. Famous I Dreamed a Dream followed me for another week and still remains one of the strongest and most emotional parts of the film-musical.
There is, however, one person whose singing skills are not so spectacular; however, his acting is good. Inspector Javert, played by Russell Crowe, is an example of a perfect policeman who, above all, praises duty and discipline and who will not let any injustice happen – ever. The strength of Crowe is not in his singing but in general performance: his charisma and power, his will to fight all evil are clearly presented. Sadly, Javert sees the world only in black-and-white, narrow-mindedness is his greatest weakness.
Published in 1862, Les Misérables remains the masterpiece, due to the different aspects Hugo addresses in his historical drama. The film highlights these themes and, supported by wonderful music, actors and surroundings, becomes a decent representation of the great novel.