It's taken over 30 years to bring the Tony Award-winning musical Les Miserables to the big screen. It had been talked about for years, dating back to 1982, but the original writers wanted it to be done properly.
Thankfully, they didn't screw up.
Les Miserables is the best movie musical to come along since Chicago.
The remake of the Victor Hugo classic stars Hugh Jackman in the pivotal role of Jean Valjean, a man on the run from his previous life. The film is expected to dominate the list of nominees in all major and technical categories when Academy Award nominations are announced in January.
Clocking in at two hours, 40 minutes, it is difficult to watch at times, especially in the opening 45 minutes but it's a rare film where you think about it the next day... and the day after.
Just when it appeared as though Sally Field had a lock on this year's Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in Lincoln, Anne Hathaway as the tragic Fatine is featured in a four-minute close-up where she sings I Dream a Dream. And the Oscar goes to.
At the hands of Tom Hooper, a 40-year-old who had never directed a musical before, it had the recipe for disaster in particular in the casting of Russell Crowe as Javert who is surprisingly good. Jackman is perhaps best known as Wolverine in the X-Men films.
Hooper, an Oscar winner for The King's Speech, demanded that all actors sing live. Actors wore a hidden earpiece where they listened to basic piano accompaniment. The orchestration was added in post-production. It's the first major musical where the cast didn't pre-record its material and then lip-sync (or in the case of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, lip-sinc to someone else's voice.)
As difficult as this is to watch, it does have moments of comic relief thanks to the oddball paring of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen (who previously co-starred in another musical, Sweeney Todd) as the scheming innkeepers.
There are tons of characters but nobody gets lost in the various subplots and frequent shifts in time and setting. The chance meetings with Javert and Valjean can be forgiven.
The success of this film extends well beyond a great cast (kudos also to child actors Daniel Huttlestone as urchin Gavroche and Isabelle Allen as young Cosette) and music. The visual look of 1800s France is stunning.
Surprisingly one of the letdowns of the film is the new song (written obviously for Oscar consideration) Suddenly which is totally forgettable and slows the story down. Otherwise every song from the musical was maintained as it stays faithful to the stage show.
Any fan of musical theatre should see Les Miserables this holiday season.
Four stars out of four.
Trivia question: Which movie did Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha baron Cohen previously co-star in prior to Les Miserables.
Last week's answer: Blonde.
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