27 years after taking the world by storm, the international musical hit Les Miserables finally gets the Hollywood treatment its diehard fans have been waiting for, but not everyone will sing its praises as loudly as them. We've already heard the critics singing the song of angry men, while audience reactions seem to be as contentious as the student rebellion around which the melodrama unfolds. Detractors have trained their muskets squarely at the film's in-your-face emotive style, the very appeal of which defenders have made their barricade against such criticisms. It begs the question: Is Les Mis the sort of movie that makes necessary – or for that matter, even makes possible – an objective review? I know I struggle to extract my opinion of the film from my opinion of the source material. Where does my love of the show end and my love of the movie begin?
If the above synopsis sounds at all glib, it's only because I have nothing but a heart full of love for this musical... and because a piece as densely plotted as Les Mis defies pithy summation. Indeed, the epic scale of the narrative and the ravishing score by which it's conveyed have long been part of its identity. Les Mis has always worn its heart proudly on its sleeve, and this cinematic translation respectfully retains that heightened sense of drama while bringing us in for a closer look.
Tom Hooper, who cut his teeth on several TV films and miniseries before impressing movie goers with The King's Speech, clearly has his directorial eye cast on performance over artifice. He often shoots his actors in extreme closeup, which may not do many favours for the expensive sets and costumes, but certainly magnifies the context of each lyric and every dramatic beat. Also adding to the immediacy of the sung-through dialogue is the inspired decision to record every number on the set, rather than in a studio beforehand. The tremendous cast is liberated to incorporate levels of expressiveness in their facial ticks and vocal inflections that would go undetected on a Broadway stage.
Perhaps I can't see the barricade for the furniture here, but if I'm being honest with myself, Les Miserables is as good an adaptation of my favourite musical as I could hope for. If I could put myself into the shoes of the uninitiated, or the cynical, or the musical-averse, I'm sure the film's numerous imperfections would diminish its effect. Perhaps unbearably so. But that is a hypothetical that I am happily unable to simulate. Though grotesquely misunderstood by many a critic, it is, for me, a stirring celebration of the musical genre as a whole; confidently sure of its true nature and trustworthy of its audience, or at least, of those willing to embrace it in all its bold, rapturous glory. Do you hear the people sing?
***1/2 out of ****