It may not be exactly subtle, but Les Misérables does deliver as an emotionally charged, epically scaled version of the stage show, and one which should satisfy its fans, even if it will struggle to win over too many newcomers. I think it’s fair to say that every performer gives it their all here, some are notably better than others with Anne Hathaway, Samantha Barks and Hugh Jackman being the standout members of the cast. Hathaway and Barks also provide the film with its two most powerful songs, with ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and ‘On my Own’ respectively. However it is Jackman who surprised me most. I hadn’t experienced him acting at this level before and he took me completely by surprise. Every moment he is on screen he delivers a powerful and emotional performance, and although the constant onslaught of emotional turmoil could potentially harm many performances, Jackman comes out of it looking pretty good.
Russell Crowe is the one who has been picked on the most by reviewers, and fair enough, he has possibly the weakest voice out of the ensemble and does struggle through a few moments. But he clearly is working hard throughout the piece, he gives his role the power that it demands, and by the end I was sufficiently affected by his performance as to let him off the hook. As a friend of mine remarked; ‘The people who claim Crowe gives a terrible performance, clearly have forgotten Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia’, and they’re right. There’s nothing awful about Crowe here.
The film makes the most of doing the one thing which the stage show cannot, and that’s push you up close and in the face of the performers. This technique has its fair share of detractors, and I’m caught somewhere in-between criticising it and praising it. There’s no doubt that it’s effective during Hathaway’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, when having her fill the screen somehow makes it all the more heartbreaking, and if Hooper had been a little braver and mixed things up then this technique could have been great. As it is though it loses its power after being used for every single song, and although it’s slightly frustrating that it is so overused, it didn’t distract me during the film.
The rest of the cast includes Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the essential and very effective comic relief, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, Aaron Tveit as his friend and leader of the rebellion Enjolras, and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. They all play their roles just fine, and I have nothing against any of them, but they don’t reach the heights set by Jackman, Hathaway, and Barks. And that’s fairly representative of the film as a whole; there are definite highlights which are pretty impressive, but they are few and are between. The rest is good but there are occasional moments which could have been improved upon. Overall though Les Misérables does exactly what you expect it to; it heaps emotionally manipulating event on top of emotionally manipulating event in an attempt to make you cry, it swells and soars with the songs, and it delivers a satisfying if not perfect film version of the fantastic stage show. Hooper’s direction is fairly easy to criticise, but it should also be noted that he took on a very challenging task and largely pulled it off – and that alone is pretty impressive.