There is a moment about twenty minutes into Les Misérables as the music swells and the camera follows the torn parole papers of Jean Valjean into the sky. At this point you either decide to enter wholeheartedly into the spectacle or find yourself condemned to three hours of boredom. I myself, chose the former.
Tom Hooper has indeed taken on a challenge in adapting the very popular stage show. The film would never be able to reach the absolute hard-core lovers of the musical as too many songs are truncated, edited or cut entirely, not to mention the addition of a new song which destroys the established musical patterning of the whole. Yet these changes are what make this an excellent piece of cinema. What is not immediately useful or engaging is scrapped, and where the show leaps awkwardly over eight years, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps, the original song, although perhaps crudely, fills the void in time and place.
The performances vary somewhat. Although the acting is solid throughout some of the singing performances are a little lacklustre. Hugh Jackman’s vocals take on a nasal tone somewhere in the first half and never lose it from there on out. This unfortunately made “Bring Him Home” the low point of the film as a soft, quiet prayer is sung loudly and brashly in the streets of Paris. At this point of bizarre melodrama and cinematography, sung through broken windows, it is hard to keep sight of the earlier scenes such as Anne Hathaway’s gut-wrenching rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”; a mesmerising scene which takes a hackneyed song and makes you forget you have ever heard it before. Hathaway’s raw emotion transcends the lyrics. Russell Crowe’s Javert is stiff but by no means two dimensional as others have claimed. In fact his stiffness seems perversely to give the character more depth as the moral rigour of the law has imbued itself into his style of walking, talking, thinking and singing.
The visual elements of the film cannot be faulted, from the extreme close-ups to the sweeping shots over revolutionary Paris the film never ceases to add excitement to what is often a dully-staged musical. “One Day More”, a chorus scene where all too often characters simply walk on stage at their line and stand there has become, through the camera lens, a dynamic intersection of every life the story touches as it cuts between every hopeful face and action. In fact, throughout the film the camera adds a new dimension to the songs as the multitude of scenes that essentially involve men standing around singing at one another are given visual interest through facial expressions and camera angles impossible on a stage.
In short; the film breathes a new lease of life into the musical, thoroughly entertaining and relentlessly true in spirit to the original.