After The King’s Speech it was a safe bet that director Tom Hooper was on a road paved with gold from here on out. Then he put his name down for a musical. Not just any musical either – Les Misérables – a story loved by millions all keen to make sure their favourite didn’t get damaged. It hasn’t. In fact, the book from 1862 that became a musical in 1980 may have just become one of the best films of 2013 and it’s only January!
From the opening it’s clear that Les Misérables and the audience are going to be in safe hands as Hooper glides into 19th century France with flair and grandeur. Zipping by a worn down ship we are introduced to another battered vessel in the form of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) a prisoner who, after stealing a loaf of bread, is finally pardoned for his crime some 19 years later. The road to redemption is a rough one though even more so when the ex-con breaks parole, gaining the attention of determined lawman Javert (Russell Crowe), in the process. Here begins a game of cat and mouse that spans years and pulls in an array of equally downtrodden characters that are all essentially good people (some not-so much) forced to do bad things, all in an effort to escape whatever hole they’ve found themselves in.
To go fully in-depth about the story of Les Mis is a task that’s as long as the film itself. Rest assured though, seeing this age old tale unravel under Hooper’s watchful eye is a true joy and even more so with the cast that sing their way through it. If it’s not Jackman literally hauling you in with his rendition of ‘Look Down’ in the films opening, it’ll be Anne Hathaway’s tearful ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ that is laced with so much raw emotion she’ll struggle to top it with anything in her career from now on.
These are just the two highest notes in a cast that play like a bittersweet symphony. With the exception of Crowe’s odd warble here and there, every appearance in Hooper’s adaptation brings a presence determined to leave an impression on the audience with every chance they get. Besides Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s pick-pocketing tavern owners are the finest supporting talents that spring to mind. A united comedic breather from the heartache and the horror that floods the film, the pair even manage to take the spotlight away from both Jackman and Crowe when they can.
That being said, the only slip from Hooper’s adaptation being more of a musical marvel than it is already is the love story that feels wedged inside it. The original story and perhaps the stage shows that came before this adaptation may have hit the right note, but the romance between Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and French resistance rogue, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) just doesn’t build as much emotion as anything else around it. In fact, if a casting swap for Redmayne with Aaron Tveit who plays resistance leader, Enjolras could have been made, it should have. This isn’t their story though, not entirely. Their’s is merely a piece to an epic and emotionally fuelled puzzle about redemption and the refusal to give in.