Film review: Les Miserables

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 6:49pm

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway 
Director: Tom Hooper
Category: IIA

What do you do after the film you directed wins multiple awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture? In the case of Tom Hooper, the director of The King's Speech, it's to bring to the silver screen a long-running hit musical based on Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, widely viewed as one of the greatest novels of the 19th century.

The English-language adaptation, now in its 27th year, of the stage musical drew critical reviews when it opened in London in 1985. The film version of Les Miserables - which, like the stage versions, is a sung-through production with minimal spoken dialogue - undoubtedly will not be to everyone's liking.

For one thing, it's not a pretty-looking film: cinematographer Danny Cohen's various close-up shots seem to delight in showing that even movie stars possess blotchy skin, spots and freckles, as well as them caked in sweat, dirt, grime and worse in this spectacular £40 million (HK$503 million) production. There also seems to be a cinematographic revelling in the fact that the people in Les Miserables often are, well, so very miserable and wretched.

The story of personal and political rebellion and romance centres, after all, on a man imprisoned for 19 years and then put on parole "forever" for the crime of stealing bread to feed his sister's starving family. And after the unfortunate Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman, above with Anne Hathaway) breaks parole, he is pursued for decades by the persistent police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).

Even after he discovers that God has not forsaken him and manages to reinvent himself as a factory boss, Valjean still has much to struggle against in life. But out of the tragedy that befalls seamstress turned prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway), some happiness does come to him by way of her daughter Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen as a child, and Amanda Seyfried as an adult), who enters his world.

With a highly dramatic tale that borders on the operatic, Les Miserables is the kind of work that benefits tremendously from having a sterling cast capable of delivering intense performances. Jackman and Crowe are masterful in their anchor roles (even though it's clear that they are struggling to meet the challenges of singing as the film is being shot),while Hathaway is wonderful, with her heart-rending rendition of I Dream a Dream making full use of her acting prowess and vocal abilities.

Among the supporting ranks, it's not Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter who impress though - indeed, I found their over-the-top comic touches overly heavy. Instead, the trio of Isabelle Allen, Samantha Barks (as the adult Éponine) and Daniel Huttlestone (as the street urchin Gavroche) are far more impressive in their film debuts - so too the romantic duo of Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne.

Les Miserables opens on December 25