As someone who was unfamiliar with the 1862 novel-turned-musical “Les Miserables” until word spread about this film adaptation from “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper, I didn’t really know what I would be witnessing walking into the theater. I knew it was a musical, I knew it had something to do with the French Revolution, I knew the basic plot, and, from what I had read, I knew that Anne Hathaway gave a stunning performance. But one unfamiliar with the source material can’t merely hear or read about such things. They have to witness it. Les Mis, as it’s referred to, is a story told in text and on stage but worthy of the cinema, a sensation barely contained on the big screen.
Now, after witnessing it, I can say two things with certainty: that cinematic worthy story is really long. And Anne Hathaway will win the Oscar for best supporting actress. If she doesn’t, chairs will be thrown. Pertaining to the first certainty, the film clocks in at a little over 2 and a half hours and it feels like it. It spans a time of nearly 20 years from the time we are introduced to Hugh Jackman’s character, Jean Valjean, to the epic climax, so there’s a lot to be taken in. But while it’s such a long film, in the end, I felt satisfied because I felt like I experienced a journey.
Now, as far as Hathaway is concerned, I really can’t think of a performance that has moved me so much this year and the Oscar is calling her name. As stated, I wasn’t familiar with Les Mis at all before this film so I’m not an expert in her character, Fantine, or the songs she sings. But I don’t think anyone can beat her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” a harrowing but beautiful and moving exclamation of a woman who’s lost everything, including her will to live. It’s powerful beyond belief and if I had to have one flaw about it it would be that it doesn’t last longer. Even in the midst of other beautifully sung songs, “I Dreamed a Dream” will stick with you until the end credits roll and even long after. These few minutes alone are worthy of cementing her Oscar win, but every other time she’s on screen prepare for chills as well.
What makes the song so much more powerful is Hooper’s decision to A) have the actors sing live as opposed to the usual lip-syncing over pre-recorded tracks and B) to focus tight on Hathaway’s face for the entirety of the song. Because of this, Hathaway gives raw, in-the-moment emotion while singing, and we feel every moment of it. Every pause in her voice to grasp herself, every tear streaking down her face, all the anger and sadness in her eyes, it’s all right there in front of us, and this can be said of any of the performances because of Hooper’s bold choice that spectacularly pays off.
While Hathaway steals every moment she’s in, it would be unjust to not mention some of the other actors in this large cast. Hugh Jackman is almost guaranteed a best actor nomination. Ultimately, this is his character’s story. As a man who learns to once again have faith in humanity after losing it many years ago, Jackman brings forth every emotion in his arsenal to give the best performance he possibly could to portray Valjean’s haunted journey to salvation. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide some good comic relief among an otherwise serious storyline. Rusell Crowe is the weakest link here as the obsessive officer Javert, who’s made it his life’s duty to bring Valjean back into custody. But the breakout star is Samantha Barks, who I think may be my new celebrity crush. Apart from the Hathaway, Barks’ performance is the next closest one in the movie that may move you to tears. As a young woman longing for a man she can not have, her character’s struggles may not be as distressful as Fantine’s, but Barks displays plenty of raw emotion in her own right.
There’s two concerns I had with the plot. 1) Crowe’s Javert is impossible to like. Yes, he’s the villain of the story, so you’re not exactly supposed to like him. But even when there’s an obvious time for Javert to learn the error of his ways and stop being such a douche, he’s still an obsessive cry baby. His fate is inevitable, but I wish I could have liked him for just a minute. 2) Love, even young love, does not happen that fast. I suppose suspension of disbelief is in order here. and that’s all I’ll say about that. But despite these little critiques, at the heart of the film is a story of redemption, faith, and revolution. Les Mis highlights that anyone can turn their life around if they so choose and at the end, you will be rewarded for the good you’ve done. It’s a respectable message and a powerfully executed one.
You may laugh, cry, or clap during or after “Les Miserables.” I heard all three in my theater. While it can profit from a tad shorter run-time and there’s a couple annoyances within the plot, the film is a worth the price of admission for its boldness and emotion. I don’t know what your resistance to crying is, but bring tissues just in case.