After 25 years of success as a mega-musical loved around the world, “Les Miserables” has made its bow as a full-fledged film musical with expanded visual and production values that make the storyline of this Victor Hugo classic even more vivid and compelling.
Broadway and film star Hugh Jackman headlines as Jean Valjean, a man whose commitment to his own personal integrity as a human being has seen him succeed through a life of great hardship and supreme challenge.
Jackman’s first appearance on-screen as a slave prisoner in the opening scenes makes him almost unrecognizable. It’s obvious from the start that director Tom Hooper is after a heightened sense of realness and authenticity, which he achieves magnificently.
Anne Hathaway is Fantaine, a woman Valjean befriends before her untimely death. Hathaway has the most powerful singing role in this film and really sets the tragedy of this story in the early segments of the movie. Valjean keeps his promise to raise Fantaine’s daughter, Cossette, played by Amanda Seyfried. Seyfried is another singing standout in this motion picture, with a voice that reminded me of Edith Piaf.
Russell Crowe appears as Javert, a conscientious man of the law whose career has been marked by a fixation on the man he can’t capture, Jean Valjean. Crowe is physically right for the role, but his singing voice is not as effective as the rest of the cast, and the contrast is obvious. Director Tom Hooper made every performer sing their role as they were shooting their scenes. Nothing was dubbed in later except the orchestra scoring. This gives the entire cast a much better opportunity to connect with the audience, and emotional connection is what “Les Miserable” has always been all about.
The original Valjean of the stage production of “Les Miserables,” both in London and New York, Colm Wilkinson, appears in the film version briefly in two scenes playing the bishop who gives Valjean a second chance at freedom and a life of his own. It’s a laudable connection to the brilliant origins of this musical and the man who was primarily responsible for making this show successful.
Movie musicals are few and a difficult “sell” to moviegoers, but “Les Miserables” will prove to be the exception. It has set box office records its first few days in release. It seems that more than just fans of the stage version are anxious and curious to experience it. “Les Miserables” has always offered a very personal message of hope and caring in a difficult and sometimes violent world. It’s release now will be very timely for the audiences who will experience it.