Les Miserables (2012)
Directed by Tom Hooper
Maybe you’ve dreamed a dream of a “Les Miserables” gone by…1998, perhaps…but nothing can possibly prepare you for director Tom Hooper’s (“The King’s Speech”) take on the musical epic, set during a fiery French Revolution. From the breathtaking opening number to the beautiful final bow (excluding, of course, some of the molasses-slow middle scenes), “Les Miserables” is on the shortlist of the best films that 2012 had to offer.
After serving his 19-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread for his ailing nephew, Jean Valjean (an Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning role for Hugh Jackman) is released on parole by the cold-blooded police inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe). After moving and making a new life for himself (and thereby breaking his parole), Valjean becomes the overseer of a factory where he meets a young mother, Fantine (an Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning role for Anne Hathaway). After she’s fired, Fantine sells her body to feed her daughter, who remains under the protection of greedy, thieving innkeepers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter, just the comic relief this dark story needed). Valjean, compelled by God and a newfound generosity, takes Fantine’s daughter Cossette (Amanda Seyfried) under his wing and raises her as his own. As the French Revolution rages on, can Valjean continue to run from his past? Can he and Cossette stay out of the bloody war?
If you haven’t heard anything about “Les Miserables,” come out from under your rock and listen up. This is important. Under Hooper’s fantastic direction (a big Oscar snub), “Les Mis” is entirely (or nearly so) a collage of musical numbers. Conversations are sung. Commands are sung. Songs are…well…sung. An artsy adaptation it is, indeed. Not only that, but the bold, gutsy (Jackman, at the Golden Globes, called him “courageous”…spot-on) Hooper directed his stars (even Crowe, sounding out of his element) to sing live in front of the camera. No auto-tune today, fellas. It’s not perfection; it’s better. It’s real. Singing through tears, Hathaway’s raw, powerful rendition of “I’ve Dreamed a Dream” is unimaginably emotional. I’ve never been much of a crier, but a handful of my fellow moviegoers made use of their Kleenex’s at various times throughout the film. Jackman, up for his first Oscar, is nearly as impressive. And look for Daniel Huttlestone in his motion picture debut. The 12-year-old sings as well as he acts, and he was the cause of the loudest expression of shock that came from the movie theater’s sizeable crowd. In fact, from the tears to the groans to the small ovation after its grand ending (easily the best of any film I saw in 2012), the big crowd in my small-town theater was one of the most expressive and interactive that I’ve seen in a long while.
Among its 8 Oscar nominations (including its acting nom’s, costume design, and, deservedly, Best Picture) is a well-merited nod for production design, one of the most obvious and awe-inspiring aspects of the film. “Les Miserables” succeeded on a colossal scale, an epic masterpiece of a style previously unseen in the world of musicals. “Les Mis” is more an event than just simply a movie. It’ll get to you.