Starting at full-emotion and never wavering for a moment, this huge movie adaptation of the long-running stage musical wears us out with its relentlessly epic approach. OK, so neither the musical nor Victor Hugo's source novel could be accused of being understated, but director Hooper (The King's Speech) never even tries to find a moment of quiet feeling here. The result is thrillingly moving, making the most of the soaring anthems that fill the show. But it's also pretty overwhelming.
The story starts in 1815 as convict Jean Valjean (Jackman) finishes 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. His parole officer Javert (Crowe) vows to keep an eye on him, but Valjean slips away and, after a redemptive encounter with a priest, eventually reinvents himself as an upstanding businessman. He tries to help fallen woman Fantine (Hathaway), rescuing her daughter Cosette (Allen, then Seyfried) from her greedy foster parents (Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter). Years later, Valjean and Cosette move to Paris, where a young revolutionary (Redmayne) falls for Cosette just as the 1832 student uprisings break out. And Javert is still determined to recapture Valjean.
Hooper maintains the play's operatic style, in which the dialog is sung-through in between the big numbers. And we're talking about massively emotional power ballads here, performed to wrenching effect. Hathaway's one-take rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is the kind of breathtaking scene that wins Oscars. Jackman's voice wavers and cracks beautifully as he holds the story together. Marks delivers a belting version of the soulful On My Own. Redmayne nearly steals the show with his soaring tenor voice and wonderful acting chops. Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter provide some raucously overwrought comical relief. And Crowe gets away with Javert's big musical moments because he has the acting power to back up his oddly thin voice.
In other words, this is intense moviemaking on a massive scale, with a cast of thousands in the outdoor riot scenes plus more contained narrow streets and some digital trickery to create 19th century France. But by opening the film with an emotional crescendo, Hooper leaves the film with nowhere to go, so he just maintains this level of intensity all the way to the end. Along the way, the story touches on some extremely current themes, such as the protest-inducing gap between rich and poor and the clash between liberal compassion and judgemental heartlessness. So Victor Hugo's themes of forgiveness and and redemption come through loud and clear.
Run time: 150 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 27th December 1978
Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Tom Hooper
Screenwriter: William Nicholson, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer
Starring: Michael Rennie as Jean Valjean, Debra Paget as Cosette, Robert Newton as Etienne Javert, Edmund Gwenn as Bishop Courbet, Sylvia Sidney as Fantine, Cameron Mitchell as Marius, Elsa Lanchester as Madame Magloire, James Robertson Justice as Robert, Joseph Wiseman as Genflou, Rhys Williams as Brevet, Florence Bates as Madame Bonnet
Also starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Barks, Isabelle Allen, Daniel Huttlestone, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, William Nicholson