Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sasha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter
Running Time: 158 minutes
Release Date: January 11th
On face, Les Misérables is built for the award season, synthesised in a lab using all the key elements; Oscar winning director, highly decorated cast (of which two were previous Oscar hosts), hugely popular source material, and the sight of Hollywood’s elite slumming it a bit. But where a movie like The Artist was almost cynical in its unabashed award hounding, Les Mis is a different animal—a beautiful bellowing beast.
Les Misérables follows Jean Valjean (Jackman), a man imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread who breaks parole, is permitted a kindness by a Bishop and reconstructs his life, becoming a mayor of a small French town. Here, he aides a down on her luck prostitute, Fantine (Hathaway), by taking care of her daughter Cosette, all the while attempting to escape a doggedly resourceful police inspector, Javert (a bumbling baritone Russell Crowe).
With a background in television and The King’s Speech having the air of a stage production, any fears about Tom Hooper’s ability to handle a spectacle like Les Mis come warranted. Between an opening scene depicting a massive shipping vessel being pulled into port by a group of hundreds in a spectacular Herzogian effort, to a vast recreation of Paris’ June Rebellion, these fears are crushed instantaneously.
Like the musical, Hooper brushes over a lot of the social aspects of Hugo’s novel, but while he fully embraces the grandeur and splendour of the stage adaptation, he’s not afraid to tackle the bleak squalor of Hugo’s book. The Road and Lawless director, John Hillcoat, once mentioned how he loves to make A-list actors look like shit in his films, and with Les Mis Hooper takes a similar approach; Jackman’s imprisoned Valjean is a bloodshot eyed, rotten toothed, emaciated corpse of a man put through the physical and emotional ringer, at one point navigating a sewer tunnel even Andy Dufresne would pass on. Hathaway’s hacked up hair Fantine with blusher applied by a Homer-Simpson-makeup-gun-set-to-whore is a far cry from the seductive Selina Kyle.
Its three leads are all impressive, saving a few moments of pomposity from Javert, with Jackman and Hathaway—whose earth-shaking rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” is the movie’s peak—looking destined for red carpet adulation next month. It’s when this musical whirlwind triumvirate are off screen that Les Mis really feels the drag of hefty running time. Cosette and Marius, the symbols of hope and love, are frustrating characters with limp turns from Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne not helping matters. In a world where Twilight has turned love triangles into warring factions, Team Éponine wins out here.
Running slightly long, Les Misérables does at times drag a bit, yet its bravado to make musicals monstrous in scope once again does pay off. It might be fishing for Oscars, but it’s still quite a catch.