Tom Hooper takes revolutionary France to the big screen!
Taking a stage musical and transforming it to the big screen always has trepidation no matter who is at the helm, but director Tom Hooper stormed the world and demonstrated stage-show sensibilities can work on cinema with the success of The King’s Speech. Now, he’s carried on that visionary mindset with his version of the well known stage musical, taken from Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel of the same, centred within the politics of a nation changing. Following Jean Valjean’s (played by Hugh Jackman) life after his paroled release by the ever-following police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), he looks after the daughter of troubled worker Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway) and learns to abide by the law during the changing landscape of revolutionary France.
Whilst avoiding the cinematic clichés of understanding the source material, basically using the sets and camera as a stage production, Hooper uses every feature in his craft that’s absent for even an audience member on the front row of a musical theatre to experience. Guiding you through huge sweeping vistas and vast amounts of time for continuity, or catching the faintest tear in the tightest close up on a troubled face, Hooper drags you into the drama, the emotion and the gritty times of our characters. Disregarding any conventional distance between actor and audience in the genre, or even adhering to the overpowering gloomy cloud of oppressive France with the help of established shots, the direction is often time off-kilter, swooping and hand held, which fits perfectly. It’s as almost as though Hooper is subtly using these techniques to side us up towards our rebellious heroes and leave out any chance of sympathy for the bad guys.
Certainly a Tom Hooper film in the true sense, but this is definitely an actor’s piece. A man as charismatic and show loving as Hugh Jackman was always going to the big draw, showmanship is in his blood. He delivers Valjean as a fractured soul, just wanting to achieve good to his followers and with his new venture in life of bringing up Cosette (later played by Amanda Seyfried) being caught up in the circus of unrest. Russell Crowe plays the hateful figure of Javert, a law enforcer who truly is menacing just by the very presence of his uniform, but with a singing voice that dips and wanes that doesn’t entirely reach the heights of his co-stars.
Anne Hathway ends up being the overwhelming star, despite her surprising lack of screen time. Pushing her singing almost to the verge of dialogue before diving into a crescendo of emotion written on her face, stealing each scene with visceral realism. With a mention going also to debutante Samantha Barks, who is fantastically underrated, caught up in a faint love triangle with our central relationship. But the surprising dark horse is that of Eddie Redmayne, playing Marius, a leader of the uprising whose fateful relationship with Cosette becomes the ray of light in what is essentially a tale of war and poverty.
With an array of talent in the cast, not forgetting a great pairing of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter playing the pick pocketing odd couple, it’s the individual moments that shine more than anything. It’s use of soliloquy and a sense of owning the screen that makes the emotion even the more powerful, despite Hooper leaving out the stage show conventions, he certainly know what to leave in. There are the odd few false steps in that the film as a whole feels abit flabby and slightly too long, even when the songs are delivered brilliantly. There are moments of slight frustration of there being very little dialogue throughout, characters in the smallest of conversations feeling the need to ensure they hit their singing notes, with maybe the odd sentence worth of talking at a time, if your lucky. But that in essence shouldn’t put you off the authenticity and faithfulness to the novel and play.
It’s rich in detail, and hard hitting when it needs to be, almost with goosebumps at times. Even with the weight of expectation, and the direction being as seamless as always, it’s the cast who certainly take the biggest bow when the curtain comes down.