out of Five
Running time: 147
Hugely enjoyable, powerfully emotional musical with superb songs, stunning set design and a series of brilliant performances from a note-perfect cast.
What's it all about?
Directed by Tom Hooper, Les Misérables is a big screen adaptation of the long-running stage musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Beginning in 1815, the film stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, an emaciated prisoner who's released after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Inspired by the kindly act of a priest (Colm Wilkinson, who played Valjean on stage), Valjean resolves to change his life and, years later, becomes the owner of a factory where he promises dying, destitute ex-factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) that he will look after her young child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen, then Amanda Seyfried).
Several years later again, Valjean and Cosette are living in Paris, where Cosette falls for dashing young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who in turn is loved by Eponine (Samantha Barks), the daughter of Cosette's old foster parents, the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter). Meanwhile, Valjean finds himself pursued by dogged policeman Javert (Russell Crowe), who's been obsessed with recapturing Valjean ever since he broke parole in 1815.
The actors are sensational. Anne Hathaway only has around 15 minutes of screen time, but she's utterly heartbreaking as Fantine and her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream (filmed in a single take, in tight close-up) is nothing short of extraordinary. Jackman, in turn, is terrific as Valjean, nailing the songs and delivering a haunted performance that is powerfully moving, while there's equally good work from both Redmayne and Barks, both of whom deliver heartrending, tissues-at-the-ready performances of their big numbers (Empty Chairs and Empty Tables and On My Own, respectively).
In addition, Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter are a lot of fun as the Thenardiers (though they do bring a bit too much of Sweeney Todd with them in the process), while Amanda Seyfried and Russell Crowe both hold their own as Cosette and Javert, even if they're largely outsung by their co-stars. On top of that, the production design is extremely impressive throughout and Hooper's frequent use of tight close-ups gives the film a palpable intimacy that is understandably absent from the stage version.
That's not to say that Les Misérables is entirely without flaws. For one thing, the staging is occasionally confusing, most notably during a climactic shoot-out sequence at the barricade, where you can't tell where anyone is in relation to one another. It's also fair to say that Hooper is possibly a little guilty of over-direction in places, particularly when it comes to swooping overhead shots of Paris.
With stirring songs and terrific performances from a superb cast, Les Misérables is a powerfully emotional musical epic that won't disappoint fans of the stage show and is likely to pick up several Oscar nominations to boot. Highly recommended.