When you've seen Les Miserables on Broadway and heard its soaring score, you will have a problem sitting through Tom Hooper's movie that diminishes this powerful score and ups the ante in the story. Oh, Hugh Jackman is sensational as is Anne Hathaway, but the real sleeper is Samantha Banks (Eponine) whose voice and acting tear at your heart. Then there's Sacha Baron Cohen who blows his gasket in all the right moments.
Victor Hugo's story is well-known. It begins in 1815 and lasts until the June Rebellion in 1832. In 19th Century France a man is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. He becomes known as prisoner 24601, or Jean Valjean, and is played by the dynamic and yet tender-hearted Hugh Jackman. After serving his sentence, Valjean is released to serve a life of parole under the grip of relentless Inspector Javert -- played by Russell Crowe. Crowe's performance is pitiful. Valjean escapes from Javert's custody and in the process stumbles upon factory worker Fantine (Hathaway) being violated and savagely beaten. Valjean takes Fantine to a hospital where she dies as she laments the welfare of her little girl, Cosette, played by Amanda Seyfried. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helene Bonham Carter have been caring for Cosette under unfit conditions.
Valjean rescues Cosette all the while running from inspector Javert. Years pass and Cosette grows up to be a stunning teenager played with the appropriate wide-eyed get-me-out-of-here-daddy kind of expression. Valjean has become Cosette's father of sorts while we have the June Rebellion all around us and about to pop. Cosette meets Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and falls in love with him while revolutionary Eponine is also in love with him. Eponine is selfless and realizes Marius loves Cosette and not her, and she begins to deliver messages from Marius to Cosette as her heart breaks. Eponine's singing by Samantha Banks matches Ann Hathaway's, and in my opinion surpasses it.
Jackman's voice is magical and his tenderness oozes out of his every pore. It is apparent that Jackman is a truly caring person.
Les Miserables is a musical of musicals, but I longed for choirs singing the lilting songs rather than actors shored up with as much back up that Hollywood and the talented Ann Dudley could muster. It did not matter much that the actors were singing while acting -- what mattered was the loss of a real live thunderous choir. This film poses the question, Can a successful Broadway musical be turned into a successful movie? Sure it's been done, but this interpretation of Les Miserables is not it.