<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Tom Hooper. Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks
For a country that prides itself on song and dance, India surprisingly has a low tolerance for Hollywood musicals. Which is sad, probably because we’re so used to vulgar item numbers and supercilious plots. Les Mis, as it is affectionately called, is a solid adaptation of the Broadway musical.
As someone who has seen the original stage play (based on Victor Hugo’s novel) I have a point of reference for watching the film. I remember a stirring story set in 1815 in France about a man, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), caught stealing a loaf of bread and sentenced to 19 years in prison doing hard labour for it. He serves his unfair sentence but remains on parole under the watchful eye of the somewhat obsessive Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). But Valjean can’t take it anymore and decides he must evade the Inspector and run to start a new and honourable life after he finds compassion and redemption in the arms of a priest.
The salient points about this film as most would have heard by now is that all or most of the actors have actually sung the songs themselves (unlike ALL of our Hindi films) and the songs have been recorded live, which means while they were on set and not dubbed over in a recording studio. This was to capture the emotion of the moment so that song and sentiment would mingle ever so delightfully to get the emotion across to you. Some scenes like Eddie Redmayne’s Empty Chairs number took 21 takes to perfect!
Academy Award-winning Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) has also used a lot of close up shots of his actors to capture the emotion. This has worked particularly well in Anne Hathaway’s scenes where she plays Fantine, a woman forced into prostitution to raise her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) who is later adopted by Jean Valjean. This particular scene with Hathaway singing I Dreamed A Dream is probably the sole reason she’s been nominated (she also cut off her long tresses for the role) and has won awards for her small role in the film. She is simply marvellous.
Hugh Jackman’s transformation for the first bit as a prisoner, starved and scraggly is similarly awe-inspiring, as you will struggle to even recognise him at first. He goes back to his charming self soon enough though. And, as Sacha Baron Cohen recently remarked at the Golden Globes, four months of singing lessons didn’t really help Russell Crowe unfortunately. It’s hard to imagine the ‘Gladiator’ belting out songs atop a French building terrace and even harder to listen to him at points. The multi-talented Sacha Baron Cohen however proves his talents quite decently here alongside Helena Bonham Carter who is no stranger to musicals or whimsical characters.
Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne’s romance, the love triangle set up by the wonderful Samantha Barks who plays Eponine and the French Revolution all provide enough meat to keep you engrossed. But at the centre is really about this strange neurotic infatuation of Inspector Javert pitted against the paranoia of the ever-cautious Valjean that takes centre stage.
The singing isn’t at all funny, in fact they’ve used a technique where some of the dialogue is mouthed as regular conversation with a slight lilt for musical effect. Great actors, a serious story, some very rousing melodies and a timeless tale have made Les Misérables a contender at the Oscars as well. Go watch it.