“Les Miserables” Movie Review

     Director Tom Hooper's screen adaptation of "Les Miserables" may not be for everyone, but once you get over the fact the characters sing all of their dialogue, you'll realize the film is as captivating as one would expect from the Oscar winner for "The King's Speech".  The film's strong points begin with an outstanding production design, art direction, and costumes which instantly transport the audience to 19th Century France.  Solid performances from Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe are supported by a stirring and emotional turn by Anne Hathaway, each proving to have exceptional range as a singer as well as actors.  Hooper guides the audience through many years as he tells the story and does so with excellent pace, stopping only at meaningful parts of the main characters lives.  As a musical, the film really never breaks out into song and there are no dance numbers like films such as "Mamma Mia" featured.  I really equate the singing  to sub titled films in that after a while your mind tricks you into thinking the actors are just talking. In other words, it really shouldn't bother you at all.

     The story follows Jean Valjean (Jackman), a prisoner who after his release, decides to break his parole conditions and assume a new life and identity.  All the while he is being hunted by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), a straight forward company man who in today's world would probably write his mother a ticket.  A young woman named Fantine (Hathaway), who works in a factory run by Valjean, gets into trouble with her boss and is fired.  In order to continue to pay for the care of her child, Fantine is forced to turn to a life of prostitution and she soon finds herself sick from disease.  Valjean visits Fantine just before her death and vows to raise her child Cosette (Amanda Seyfried).  Again, Valjean moves to a different town and assumes a new identity for himself and Cosette. 

     The story continues as they find themselves in the middle of a rebellion and Javert still hot on their trail.  Cosette, now a teenager, falls for one of the rebels, which also creates a love triangle with another girl involved in the rebellion.  Did I tell you the translation for "Les Miserables" is "The Miserable Ones?". Nothing seems to go right for the characters in this story.  When they sing, they are usually crying as there is absolutely nothing positive going on.  Perhaps the best example of this is Anne Hathaway's performance of "I Dreamed a Dream".  Her acting in the scene is impeccable as she clearly communicates an overwhelming feeling of pure sadness.  All of her life's dreams have been destroyed and she can't deal with the uncertainty of her daughter's future.  If someone has told you the film will cause you to tear up, this is the scene they are talking about and this scene alone may win Hathaway an Oscar.

     The rest of the supporting cast is up to task as well.  Two others that stood out to me were Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Cosette's childhood caretakers, Thenardier and Madame Theenardier.  They both provide much needed comic relief as their roles are similar to the evil caretakers of little orphan Annie in that story, always out to scam a quick buck that won't find it's way to helping take care of their children.  Cohen in particular has proven himself to be a very good supporting player in these types of films as he also showed in last year's "Hugo".  Seyfried is a natural as Cosette, and her lead role in "Mamma Mia" likely didn't hurt.

    As I watched "Les Miserables", I wondered how good the film would be if it were made as a normal speaking film.  I'm sure the purists would complain, but I felt the story was extremely compelling and would've stood up just fine without it being a musical.  As is, the film is still one of the best films this year.  There is an undeniable craft here which just can't be ignored.  The films opening scene is a spectacular combination of visual effects and design as hundreds of French prisoners attempt to pull a full size French Naval ship into a wooden dock.  Visually, the sequence is unlike anything I've seen and it is another fine representation of the hard life the characters in this film seem to consistently have.  As an audience member, you just have to root for something to go right.  A Best Picture nomination is likely and though Hooper likely won't repeat as Director winner two years in a row, a nomination is deserved.  The true standout; however, is Anne Hathaway who delivers one of the most emotionally haunting performances I've seen in years. Consider her a lock to win Best Supporting Actress as "Les Miserables" enjoys a very lucrative awards season.  GRADE: A