Here it is, “Occupy Movement: The Musical,” the French musical “Les Miserables” preaching economic revolution, the downtrodden rising up against the wealthy few and a police force hellbent on defending the status quo.
Tom “The King’s Speech” Hooper brings this worldwide phenomenon to the screen with its majestic music and emotional weight intact. He takes the film outdoors and gives us a raw, sometimes wrenching remembrance of how unjust, how hungry and how bloody, dirty and smelly France was in the post-Napoleonic decades that one man spends on the run from his nemesis.
Victor Hugo’s epic is about an ex-con, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), hardened by decades of imprisonment, converted by one great act of kindness but pursued, doggedly, by the fanatical police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean gains purpose and compassion, but Javert is blinded by his pursuit, a man not in search of justice – merely exploiting the letter of the law.
Valjean fails to save the pathetic and persecuted prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway), but resolves to provide for her daughter, the curly-locked Cosette (Isabelle Allen, and later Amanda Seyfried). And when the time comes, Valjean will put his life on the line for Cosette’s first love, the young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne).
The emotions are as big as the set-pieces, from the opening – convicts hauling a huge, battered ship into drydock, singing “Look down, look down, you’ll always be a slave, look down, look down, you’re standing in your grave,” and Javert bellowing “Do not forget me, [prisoner] 24601” to Javert – to the climax, the stirring call to survive and revolt, “One Day More.”
Hooper had the actors sing live, on set, which gives this sung-through musical a lived-in feel. He shoots much of this grey and grimy world with hand-held cameras, adding to the immediacy.
The actors acquit themselves admirably, with Jackman’s Broadway tenor rubbed rough and Crowe’s gruff baritone showing range. He kind of blows Javert’s big moment – when he realizes the injustice of his ways. But everything else about him – his military bearing, his horsemanship, screams Javert.
An emaciated Hathaway is properly heartbreaking as Fantine, Redmayne (“My Week With Marilyn”) is in fine voice and the comic relief – Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as the corrupt innkeepers who “take care” of the young Cosette — are as adept with their big “Master of the House” number as they are the comedy.
The best voice in the cast belongs to Samantha Barks, as Eponine, that couple’s adult daughter, tragically pining for Marius, who loves the blonde Cosette, given a shrill trill by “Mamma Mia’s” Seyfried.
The singing children, Allen and Daniel Huttlestone as the streetwise boy Gavroche, are lyric wonders, with Huttlestone’s performance crying out for an “Oliver!” revival.
Here’s the one holiday film to justify its two and a half hour running time, a spectacle that feels like a big screen “event,” though the “shaky cam” moments rob the barricades, where the revolutionaries stand against the army, of their scale and grandeur.
Hooper & Co. have made this modern musical in-the-moment relevant, a film that doesn’t pretty up the past but that brings that past, where the heroic, the tragic, the villainous and the mean sing their emotions, stirringly to life. “Les Miserables” is one of the year’s best films.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne
Credits: Directed by Tom Hooper, scripted by William Nicholson, based on the stage musical. A Universal release.
Running time: 2:33