LES MISÉRABLES – The Review
Over a year ago, when it was announced that Academy award-winning director Tom Hooper would be bringing the iconic musical LES MISÉRABLES to the big screen - as a musical, diehard fans of the show breathed a collective sigh of skepticism. When it comes to musicals adapted to film, the general rule of thumb is that you have to trade professional Broadway caliber “no-names” for A-list Hollywood stars who aren’t trained singers (see RENT, ROCK OF AGES – both hugely successful on stage but bombed as movies because RENT was cast with relative no-names and ROCK OF AGES had the big names that couldn’t sing a note!).
It’s a tricky combination to pull off and I am very happy to say that FINALLY it has been done!
Miraculously, Tom Hooper has put together the exact perfect combination, with staggering credentials. In Hugh Jackman (Valjean), you have a Broadway trained, Tony award-winning, A-list actor that was born to play this role. Also perfectly cast is Russell Crowe (Javert), an A-list, Academy award-winning actor who just so happens to sing in a rock band in his spare time! Then you have Anne Hathaway (Fantine), another A-lister and Hollywood darling who has shown she has an aptitude for musical theater. It just doesn’t get any better than that. Throw in Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (The Thenardiers), who are also perfectly cast and more than capable, and you have what I consider The Dream Team.
The other near-impossible undertaking was that Hooper declared that for his adaptation, the actors – all of the actors – would be singing live. LIVE! For those not familiar with how movie musicals are normally filmed, the actors pre-record the songs in a recording studio and then lip-sync to the tracks played back when filming. While this allows a sort of vocal perfection, the emotion of the music and lyrics is lost trying to perfectly match the lip-sync. What Hooper has created is raw emotion while the actors are singing because they are singing live and the music stays with them, rather than them having to stay with the music. They are perfectly in the moment.
And even though Jackman, Hathaway, Crowe and the rest of the cast are at different singing-ability levels, the entire movie is sung with no real spoken dialogue. And it works. When Hathaway gut-wrenchingly sings Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” while sobbing and getting her hair chopped off, it’s heartbreaking (and Oscar gold, by the way). Crowe’s Inspector Javert is so angry and menacing that when he sings in that state of anger, you get it. And Jackman’s Valjean is just one huge pile of raw, exposed emotions that you forget he’s singing and concentrate on what he’s emoting so flawlessly.
As a diehard fan of this show, having seen it many times on stage, I think this movie is perfection. It’s sweeping and epic and emotional and I hope it gets all the appreciation and accolades that it deserves. As for movie musicals, this is a game changer. LES MISÉRABLES will be the blueprint for how musicals are filmed from now on. The live singing will make everyone step up their game and the big winners will be audiences.
In theaters on Christmas Day, LES MISÉRABLES should absolutely be experienced on the big screen. So after the presents are opened, and the family meal is over, go to the movies! Go see LES MISÉRABLES