Film review: Les Miserables
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter
Director: Tom Hooper
Indian Express Rating: ***
Victor Hugo’s novel is as much about the characters as the circumstances that shape them. A film, even at 158 minutes, can’t be expected to go into all that. More an adaptation of the longest-running musical Les Miserables based on the novel, that was first staged in 1985 and has since won over 100 awards, the film remains true to this version’s spirit, its songs and even how it is picturised visually. Does it do justice to Hugo’s underlying theme of oppression, liberation, redemption and change is another matter altogether.
For lost somewhere in the relentless singing and the overwrought performance of Hugh Jackman is that sense of a society in change. Hugo told that through his four main characters of Valjean (Jackman), Fantine (Hathaway), Javert (Crowe) and Marius (Redmayne) yes, but each of them stood for a section of society held prisoner by its own constrictions. The goodness of a few sometimes soared above those constrictions, but the film has no time for them.
It’s the character of Valjean, the moral centre of the story, who suffers most as a result. His dilemmas and handwringing are too visibly played out to seem real. And Jackman doesn’t have the depth to make it seem like coming from somewhere deeper within. Crowe’s singing isn’t as good but his Inspector Javert, Valjean’s arch enemy who is as tortured but won’t acknowledge it, on the other hand visibly rests on a precipice – as director Hooper never lets us forget.
That is the other problem with Hooper. His direction style is one of reiteration and of mounting spectacles (a contrast from his previous The King’s Speech), and the most glaring example is when Javert and Valjean are introduced to us. Valjean is hauling a ship and later a pole, which will immediately draw to mind a certain someone dragging a cross. It’s meant to impress but leaves no impression.
Hooper is better when he lets his actors be at the heart of a scene, which is particularly true of Hathaway as Fantine and surprisingly, Samantha Barks as Eponine. Both have small roles but as Hooper captures them from up close, they breathe their heartbreak and pain and belt it out.
Hathaway, who has already started collecting awards for a film that has garnered eight Oscar nominations, does a virtuoso performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” -- crying for her shaved hair, plucked-out teeth and lost dignity, and condemning the world, including us, for it. Hooper’s decision to record the songs live on camera makes perfect sense here.
The film comes into its own in these brief flashes till what is easily the highlight: the barricade of the Pairs 1832 uprising, when a group of youth stood up to the new monarchy. Hooper builds up the brief revolt as well as the quick tragedy of it quite nicely.
So much so that by the time he works up to the grand finale, it seems like a different film than from where it began. Fans of Hugo’s book would argue the same about how far the film strays from it.