Talia’s Takes – 2013 Oscars: Les Misérables
Director: Tom Hooper
Writers: William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer (screenplay) and Victor Hugo (novel)
Cast Members: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne
Runtime: 158 min
Not all musicals make good movies, just as not all books make good musicals. Not only did Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables transition beautifully onto the stage, but the work has now become a majestic piece of film as well. Strong acting and vocal performances paired with a remarkable score create a unique movie going experience that resonates with a viewer long after the final note has been sung.
After his release from imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) experiences an act of life changing kindness that prompts him to become a new man. Pursued endlessly by ruthless Police Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), Valjean nonetheless agrees to care for the daughter of the dying Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a decision that will have unforeseen repercussions for many individuals. Set in post-revolutionary France, the film tells an unforgettable story of individuals fighting for what they believe in.
As a great fan of the stage production of Les Misérables, I was very curious and slightly apprehensive about a film version of the work. I ended up being greatly pleased with the resulting film, which stays predominantly faithful to the original while still crafting a unique tone and characterizations. Hathaway’s Fantine, for example, is more raw and heartrending than many presented on the stage; Hathaway has stated that she purposely chose to avoid representing a ‘pretty’ version of this destitute character. Overall, I did find the film to lack the occasional humour that is to be found in the stage version, resulting in a bleaker and darker story. Much more can be shown on film than on the stage, and less is left to the imagination. While this deviation did result in an emotionally powerful and weighty work, I missed the occasional moments of humour that lightened the original. In an unprecedented act, all of the singing heard in the film was recorded live as the actors were performing as opposed to separately in a studio; this way, the physical and vocal performances reflected each other and matched up seamlessly. Said performances were, for the most part, very well executed, resulting in fascinating characters that command the attention and empathy of a viewer.
Although nominated for Best Picture, the lack of nomination for Best Director or Film Editing makes a win in this category unlikely. Also working against this film is its status as a musical; only ten musical movies have won the honour in Academy Award history, the last being Chicago in 2002. Hugh Jackman’s performance was certainly strong enough to make him a solid competitor for Actor in a Leading Role; however, it would nonetheless be surprising to see a musical performance take the prize. More likely is a win for Anne Hathaway in the Actress in a Supporting Role category for her raw and heartbreakingly honest portrayal of Fantine.
A simultaneously beautiful and haunting film, Les Misérables provides a faithful representation of a beloved musical and novel. Devastating yet ultimately uplifting, it is difficult not to be swept up by the emotionally powerful songs and performances presented herein.
Photo Credits: Universal Pictures