Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) brings the epic stage musical to the big screen with stars Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. Now playing nationwide.
Much has been made of the naturalistic approach to this greatest hits musical with actors singing live to camera, but let’s face it, the beauty of musical theatre is its ridiculousness – the soul-warming idea that there will be a song for every emotion, a dance step for each skip of the heart. Making a musical more realistic just amplifies that silliness.
Tom Hooper has enlisted a brilliant cast to bring Les Misérables to screen. The bravura performance (and dibs on best supporting actress Oscar) go to Anne Hathaway for an I Dreamed a Dream that will yank even more heart strings than Susan Boyle’s version. A shadowy close-up on Hathaway’s woeful, doe-eyed Fantine is the only cinematic accompaniment needed for such masterful delivery. But Hooper could have mixed it up a bit more as the film leafs through its lengthy repertoire. Teary close-ups follow teary close-ups whether it’s blubbery musical geek-cum-heartthrob Hugh Jackman suffering through his internal moral battles or the anguished moistened cheekbones of our hero Marius (Redmayne) as he fights for love and country.
The actors do an admirable job of carrying their tunes (with one glaring exception – here’s looking at you big Russ) but how about some lively choreography to ignite the film with the spirit that has captivated millions on stage? There’s ample space for artistic risk-taking in this new medium. What would a director like (gasp!) Baz Luhrmann have done with it? Les Mis entertains most when it goes for flamboyant. Highlights are the hilarious romping of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the dastardly innkeepers, the rousing mass chorus flag-waving scenes, and my favourite, ballsy street urchin Gavroche whose cheeky anthem Little People is cut cruelly short.
The lavish, formidable production will delight fans but I doubt the uninitiated will be won over the barricade.