The most musical musical I’ve ever seen

Les Misérables is, without a doubt, the most musical musical I’ve ever seen – all-singing, no talking! Beyond the broad strokes of the historical context, I knew next to nothing of the show before seeing the film. The result? A visually stunning, emotionally intimate, and utterly captivating spectacle that’ll have you humming “I Dreamed a Dream” for days.

Set against the backdrop of post-revolutionary France, Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread who breaks parole to start a new life. Hunted relentlessly by the law-obsessed Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), Valjean’s path crosses with Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a factory worker fallen into despair. Valjean’s promise to care for Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), leads him to a life of redemption and sacrifice. The young revolutionaries, led by Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and the brave Éponine (Samantha Barks), fight for freedom, with their lives intertwining in a tale of love, loss, and enduring hope.

The film’s decision to record live vocals adds a raw and immediate emotional punch, allowing for performances that feel genuine and deeply moving. Hugh Jackman shines as Jean Valjean, bringing a compelling mix of vulnerability and strength to the role. Anne Hathaway, however, steals the show. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is heartbreakingly raw, earning her an Oscar and rightly so.

The production design and cinematography work together to vividly bring 19th-century France to life. From the bustling streets of Paris to the grim docks, the settings are meticulously crafted, immersing viewers in the era’s atmosphere. The barricade scenes, charged with energy and pathos, highlight the film’s ability to blend intimate moments with grand spectacle effectively.

Despite its many strengths, the film is not without its flaws. Some critics argue that the heavy reliance on CGI and certain directorial choices, such as the frequent use of Dutch angles, can be distracting and undermine the film’s dramatic moments. Russell Crowe’s performance as Javert has been particularly divisive; his restrained vocal approach and perceived discomfort with the musical format have been points of contention. Additionally, the film’s narrative can feel disjointed, with the plot sometimes taking a backseat to the musical numbers, resulting in a series of high points rather than a cohesive whole.

Compared to other stage-to-screen adaptations, Les Misérables stands out for its ambitious scope and emotional depth. While it shares the grandiosity of films like The Phantom of the Opera, it surpasses many in its ability to convey raw emotion through live performance. However, it also shares some of the pitfalls of these adaptations, such as a tendency towards over-sentimentality and occasional narrative disjointedness. The decision to film live vocals, while adding authenticity, sometimes exposes the limitations of the actors’ singing abilities, setting it apart from more polished adaptations that rely on pre-recorded tracks.

In conclusion, Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is a bold and mostly successful adaptation that hits many of the right notes, both musically and emotionally. While it may polarize some audiences with its stylistic choices and vocal performances, it remains a powerful depiction of Hugo’s timeless tale of redemption and resilience. For those willing to embrace its operatic approach and grandiose execution, the film offers an emotionally immersive experience that lingers long after the credits roll.

So, is Les Misérables worth the nearly three-hour runtime? Absolutely. Just be sure to bring tissues—and maybe a thesaurus to find new ways to say “wow.”

Les Misérables Review
Score 9/10
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