Audiences will be polarized by this brave version of one of the most beloved musicals in theatrical history. The stage play has plenty of baggage, including songs that are second nature to us. It is massive in scope and unashamedly sentimental.
Emotions run extremely high, and that’s what Tom Hooper went for and got with his filmed adaptation. Some modern audiences think if you take something meant for the stage and plop it on a screen, it will necessarily come off as artificial, and at times that’s true here.
And Hooper’s Les Misérables keeps its scenery chewing, emotion- laden essence intact, and while it works on many of us, some contemporary audiences don’t know how to process all that singing and the crying and the spectacle. There isn’t a monster in sight or a 3D parallel existence.
It’s just a bunch of people singing their sad tale in a sad time. And it’s set in the past! How many challenges can a film withstand?
To the good are sumptuous, period rich details, rousing music and stellar performances by Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, the film’s raision d’etre and Anne Hathaway whose torturous situation yields several heart wrenching songs and tears. She’s not in the film for long but her ghost lingers throughout and long afterwards.
The film is 157 minutes of complex material that covers five thick novels by Victor Hugo published back in 1962. So there’s not much dawdling, and it is suitable for audiences with short attention spans. It’s intense.
Jean Valjean is a prisoner in the cruel French penal system going on twenty years – his punishment for stealing bread for his ill sister and child.
Officer Javert (Russell Crowe) who will harass him for the rest of his life grudgingly lets him go. Valjean is swept aside as an ex-con, and lives outside; a priest takes pity on him and encourages him to be a better man.
Meanwhile Fantine (Anne Hathaway), and her child Cosette, lives in forced labour and eventually turns to prostitution. She contracts a deadly disease and fears for the future of her daughter.
Javert arrests Fantine but is stopped by Valjean, now the city’s mayor, who promises to bring Cosette to Fantine. Before he can do it, Fantine dies. And not before Hathaway belts off tear choked songs which may have audience members in tears.
The byzantine plot thickens as they say, embracing politics revolution, brotherhood, love, death, loss and hope. Cosette’s future is brightened by Valjean’s sponsorship.
Les Misérables is extraordinarily sentimental, and will be challenging to some and catnip to others.
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35 mm musical
Opens Dec 25
Directed by Tom Hooper
Runtime: 157 minutes