The sweeping epic novel "Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo was first published in 1862. The story begins in 1815 when Jean Valjean was released from prison after a 19-year incarceration. It then follows Valjean and the people around him until the 1832 Paris Rebellion. In 1985, it became a musical with music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, French book by Alain Boublil and English libretto by Herbert Kretzmer. This highly-anticipated 2012 film version faithfully follows the story flow of this very successful, long-running musical. All of its many well-loved songs are all here, as envisioned for the big screen by Director Tom Hooper.
Hooper, who just won the Oscar for Best Director (and Picture) last year for "The King's Speech," employed very striking close-up shots of most of these very dramatic, heart- rending musical performances. It is well-publicized that Hooper also required his stars to be actually singing live during the take, and this fact makes the performances all the more amazing. It was also very good that they had added certain details from the original novel (like Fantine selling her teeth or Marius meeting his grandfather) to further enhance this latest version.
The trailer already endeared us to the haunting rendition of Anne Hathaway of Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream." But what we see in the actual film, is Anne, emaciated with roughly-cut hair, singing that song in stark close-up, in one long single take, with deep stark emotion, while tears were flowing down her cheeks. This was perfection! Her Golden Globe win, Oscar nomination and likely Oscar win is absolutely deserved.
Hugh Jackman had a larger than life screen presence as Jean Valjean. I cannot imagine any other Hollywood star who has the physical and vocal attributes appropriate for the demanding role of Valjean, an ex-convict who spends his lifetime trying to make up for the sins of his past. Hugh is already an Tony-award winning musical theater star so his singing credentials cannot be questioned. We definitely could hear this voice his strong yet emotional renditions of "Soliloquy" and "Bring Me Home" in this film. There may be vocal imperfections which may be due to voice fatigue due to the repeated takes of singing of these demanding songs live. However these "rough spots" nevertheless added to the drama of the songs. He went all out to look scraggly, gaunt and old as his role required. His Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for this film is also very well-deserved. I would even go out on a limb and say that Hugh's performance as Valjean is more emotionally-stirring than Daniel Day-Lewis' was in "Lincoln." I want him to win that Oscar.
The third member of the cast that I was most impressed with was Eddie Redmayne who played Marius. After watching and hearing him perform the shows most romantic and stirring songs like "A Heart Full of Love", "A Little Fall of Rain" and most especially, "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables," I was really surprised that he did not receive any awards consideration at all. He was really very good as the young romantic lead. He had good chemistry with both the fair Cossette (Amanda Siefried) and the tragic Eponine (Samantha Barks).
Many critics have been hard on Russell Crowe and his singing. It was not really that bad though, though his versions of "Stars" and "Suicide" were not exactly what we expect from stage performances. It is of course not fair to judge it this way since performance styles would be different in stage and screen. I would say that Crowe's version of these songs are introspective, as opposed to the bombastic version of stage Javerts. Similarly, Samantha Banks would have portrayed Eponine differently when she was on the Broadway stage as she did in the film, where she had to sing both "On My Own" and "A Little Fall of Rain" drenched with actual rain, with a camera so close-up to capture every emotion on her face.
The vibrant cinematography, the production design, the accurate costumes all effectively capture the squalor and turmoil of Paris during that bleak period in French history. These technical aspects of the film are all fully deserving of awards as well. OK, being a theater geek, and I may be biased. But now that I have seen ALL nine nominees, in all fairness I can declare that "Les Miserables" is the most deserving movie for that Oscar Best Picture grand prize!