When it first was announced that director Tom Hooper was taking on “Les Misérables,” I could hardly keep quiet my apprehensions of whether he could deliver the melodramatic plot and overwhelmingly emotional songs enough to keep even the most seasoned theatre-goers satiated. With fingers crossed and the lights lowering in the theatre, I prayed it would be magnificent.
Thank God that’s what showed up on the silver screen. Hooper’s gutsy decision to break the musical-turned-blockbuster model of lip-synching to a pre-recorded track (need I even mention Joel Schumacher’s 2004 painfully lip-synched film adaptation of “The Phantom of the Opera”?) and have his cast sing their songs live on-camera could have been disastrous. The actors, aided by small earpieces so that they could hear the live-piano arrangements of their music, were given the freedom to be spontaneous in their scenes and explore more emotional expression with their voices by singing live in every take. The move was risky, but it was a stroke of brilliance: the result was absolutely breathtaking.
An example of this moving break from tradition is Anne Hathaway’s interpretation of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Her head shaved on-camera a là Natalie Portman in “V for Vendetta,” Hathaway’s Fantine tethers moviegoers to her impending dismal fate before she even opens her mouth. Instead of pursuing the traditional version of the song and belting the last verses with conviction, Hathaway exposes Fantine’s raw vulnerability with shaking vocals, even breaking down into sobs. Despite this unexpected approach to the iconic song, and my own initial misgivings of Hathaway’s talent as an actress, she nails it — and undeniably deserves an Oscar.
Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe’s Javert are aptly casted and rise to the vocal challenge of their roles, and Amanda Seyfried gives her best vocal performance yet, as well (let’s scratch “Mamma Mia” off her film credits entirely). Though lacking in screen time, it was also nice to see Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter return to the screen and lend their voices to sinister characters once more (they both appeared in the 2007 film version of “Sweeney Todd” as Adolfo Pirelli and Mrs. Lovett, respectively).
Laced with Christian themes of redemption, compassion and love, Hooper’s “Les Misérables,” is a stunning and touching resurrection of the French Revolution musical that brought audiences to their feet on Broadway for sixteen years — indeed, every person in my theatre still stood and applauded long after the credits ceased to roll.