This is the first time I’ve ever seen the musical version of Les Miserables. This is something of a surprise, because around 21 years ago I listened to the full soundtrack. I just never had the chance to actually see a performance. During that time, for personal reasons, it became a very important story to me. Now I’ve finally had the chance to watch this movie. Was it worth the 21 year wait?
In a word, yes. This was absolutely everything that I’d hoped for in a movie version of the famed musical. Visually stunning, with such a memorable soundtrack and incredible performances, especially by Anne Hathaway who, goodness me, may well have sewn up an Oscar with her singing of “I Dreamed a Dream”, something that put even the Susan Boyle version to shame.
The story is by turns basic and complex. Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a man convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. During that time, he tried to escape, but was caught, and ends up having fourteen years added to his sentence. Now after 19 years, he’s released on a parole, but, as many released from prison discover even now, he can’t find a job and can’t find a place to live. He’s taken in by a kindly bishop (Colm Wilkinson, who originated the Valjean role on stage), and then repays the bishop’s kindness by stealing silver plates and the like. When he’s caught, he claims the silver was a gift, and is astounded when the bishop not only backs him up, but offers him more. Valjean, who had been on the verge of turning into a villain, instead becomes a hero and sets out to return to being an honest man. Meantime, police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe, who really has an incredible singing voice), sets off in pursuit of Valjean, while around them France seethes with revolutionary fervor.
That is, mind you, just scratching the surface. It doesn’t touch on the romance, the comedy relief, the violence, the death, the other death, the many, many, many deaths. Some of these deaths are truly heart-wrenching, and I’m only half joking when I comment about hiding the razors before watching.
The music is everything I’d expected and the sets are wonderful. But the real gem here are the performances. Jackman, Crowe, Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bohnam Carter are all exceptionally good in their roles, but it is Hathaway who walks off with the best performance on film. If you can sit through her final song and not want to start crying like a child, you might well need to have emotions.exe installed. In fact the only complaint I have about casting is that of Eddie Redmayne, a normally fine actor, but someone with a singing voice that sounds like what someone who wanted to parody a stage singing voice would sound like. It’s not bad, really, but very stylized and odd.
While I don’t think this movie will or should win Best Picture at the Oscars, it still has a great deal to recommend it. I highly recommend it, the highlight soundtrack, currently available for fifteen bucks from Amazon, and even, if you feel brave enough, reading the original book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in any of the above.