Adapting a musical, a beloved one at that, can be a difficult endeavor. There have been many that have failed over the years to attract a big audience. "The Producers" is one that comes to mind, as well as the film adaptation of "Rent." Fortunately, "Les Misrables" is not one of those.
For those unfamiliar with the story, stay with me; there are a lot of people to introduce. There's no character better to start with than Prisoner 24601, otherwise known as Jean Valjean, a man who has been locked up for years over stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's child. Tormenting him throughout his stay is Javert, a policeman who will stop at nothing to make sure Valjean stays behind bars.
Valjean is eventually released and begins to make a life for himself when he comes across the prostitute Fantine, who has recently been fired from her job and has a child. Valjean takes pity on her and attempts to save her, but in the process becomes a surrogate father to her child, Cosette. There are a host of other characters and it would fill this page just to go through the entire plot.
There's been a lot of hype around Anne Hathaway's performance as Fantine, but it really is a knockout. Her waifish, pasty figure is a sorry sight that elicits a lot of sympathy and her singing of "I Dreamed a Dream" is heartbreaking. Given a story that literally translates to "The Miserable," Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are a welcome addition as the thieving, pilfering, scamming and comical Thnardiers. Their song, "Master of the House," is incredibly catchy and you'll be humming it after you leave the theater.
Coming off his win for "The King's Speech," director Top Hooper has a crafted a grand, epic musical but not one without its flaws. Hooper's been criticized for her decisions in cinematography, often opting for a close-up instead of a wider shot, and it does become distracting throughout the film. While it brings us closer to the characters on an emotional level, it loses its scope. It's an interesting way to tell such a large tale in tight shots , but not one that ultimately pays off.
I went into "Les Mis" only knowing a few of the songs and I came out enjoying a few new ones. Despite its bummer tone, the music is passionate and rousing. "Can You Hear the People Sing" should be enough to send chills down your spine.
It's good to see the musical is still in fine form and "Les Miserables"?is a very good example of what a musical can be: uplifting, yet sad. Full of despair, yet hopeful.