I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Les Miserables made the list; the list editors love, love, love musicals, and this being the first musical since Chicago won the thing to be nominated for Best Picture, it only made sense that it would show up. Now, anyone who’s read pretty much any musical reviews on this site knows I have a detailed history with musicals, having spent most of my high school extracurricular activity in the theater department, and Les Mis was always the untouchable unicorn of our school; we wanted to do it so bad, but we never did. To this day, I still regard the role of Marius as one of the very few roles that, should I go on to have a career in film, I would return to the stage for. All this said, I held the film adaptation of Les Mis in pretty high standards before I saw it, and while the film itself was a damn near perfect adaptation and an excellent representation of why the stage production is so beloved, I may have set my standards a little too high.
The story of Les Mis is a complicated one, and thorough, but I’ll try my best. Hugh Jackman, in undoubtedly one of the best roles of his career so far, is Jean Valjean, who starts off the film as a convict under the watchful eye of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe, who incidentally, I hadn’t considered, has a lovely singing voice). He receives his parole and is freed, but after a chance encounter with a clergyman that lifts his heart, he breaks his parole and sets up a new life in a different city. As it turns out, the city is currently brimming and frothing at the rim with the tide of French revolution, and it is several years into the future that Valjean and his ward and would-be daughter Cosette (and her eventual flame Marius) are drawn into the fire when the rebellion lights the match. Anyone familiar with the musicals of Jacques Demy will be familiar with the style of musical that Les Miserables is; most of the dialogue is sung (there are a few scattered bits of unsung dialogue throughout), making the whole film a continuous musical, and indeed the Wikipedia page for the film lists over 50 “numbers”. The whole sung-through aspect might be annoying to some, and in all fairness, if this is you, you would probably do best to avoid Les Mis in all its forms, but it does avoid the general issue of overdubbing that rears its head throughout almost every musical, even the modern ones, so I welcomed the change. What is unfortunate about the format is that there are very few songs that are standouts, since they all seem to blend together, and indeed many of them are reprises. One standout that comes to mind immediately comes to us courtesy of Anne Hathaway, who plays a small but towering role as Fantine. Hathaway’s delivery of the oft-regarded melody ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ will crush your heart with its raw intensity, made even more so by the excellent decision to have the entire song be a single unbroken take, and indeed I caught a few more long takes used throughout the film, though in hindsight it pretty much seemed as though they were only there for the actors’ sake.
I haven’t spoken too much about the technicals, which were excellent now that I think about them, and that may say more than anything I could’ve said; I was so wrapped up in the film that I paid the technicals no mind. Now, I know I will not have everyone who reads this on my side in this regard; there were a few times I caught my attention slipping, mostly because of the length of the film, and again, the constant singing will be exhausting for many who try this one. Indeed, I can only think that the editors really wanted a modern musical on the list, and lo and behold, Les Mis comes along and checks off all their requirements on their checklist, but you know what; I’m happy it made it. As much as I was a drama geek in high school (and, film-wise, grew up on a great deal of musicals), I’ve largely left that behind me, but it was nice to indulge a little in my past, through an admittedly more modern lens. Tom Hooper took on a lot when he decided to do this production, and at least in that regard, he has succeeded incredibly, but it is really to each their own as to whether this is for them. Do give it a try, though; it’s a hell of a spectacle.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10