They Didn’t Dream This Dream
Main Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Director: Tom Hooper
Having seen the stage production of Les Mis I would have said I knew the story. Jean Valjean steals a loaf of bread for his starving family in 19th century France and spends the rest of his life fleeing the law in the form of Inspector Javert. Not quite. Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) does indeed steal that loaf of bread, and goes to prison for 19 long years as punishment. It is only after breaking his parole, and with it the bonds of being an ex-con, and becoming a successful man that he is hunted by Javert (played by Russell Crowe). In the process of trying to live his life
as a good man he befriends an ailing prostitute (Anne Hathaway) and vows to care for her child. Javert never gives up his pursuit, and the story is about right and wrong, crime and punishment, injustice and redemption, survival and revolution.
Tom Hooper put together a lush production of this famous musical, adding beautiful, towering images that enhance a feeling of a larger than life set of characters representing the basic struggles of mankind. He uses the medium of film to his great advantage, making the most of his ability to add grand visual effects to the now-timeless story.
He also put together a stellar cast. Anne Hathaway’s Fantine is not a large role, but she squeeze’s every last bit of emotion from her tragic scenes and with her performance of I Dreamed a Dream earned and won an Oscar in three minutes of screen time. Jackman is a seasoned veteran of musical theater and his experience shows as he takes Valjean through the many stages of his life – prisoner to businessman to haunted, hunted fugitive. He has spectacular screen presence and his relationships form the emotional core of the film. Russell Crowe has received some criticism as the weakest voice in the cast and I certainly won’t argue that point. But I will argue that his voice and mannerisms fit the rigid, punitive Javert quite well. This character should not sing like a lark, he should be tuneless and without emotion. Crowe can do that.
There will be people who are put off by the entirely sung narrative of Les Mis. And it does take some getting used to. Refrains from the major songs become more and more familiar as they are used to drive the plot forward through spoken passages turned to song. It can become overwhelming and create a feeling of overuse of the musical score. That’s just the nature of the production – you’ll either like it or not, no matter what medium is used in the presentation. This cast does a beautiful job for the most part, not too often feeling forced into song. The fact that the music was all recorded on set only makes the achievement more astonishing.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Hooper’s production of Les Miserables and still wish that I had seen it on the big screen. It still carries great emotional punch on DVD, however, and if you’re a fan it definitely has infinite re-watch potential. In fact, we watched Anne Hathaway sing I Dreamed a Dream 4 times in a row, immediately after the movie ended. Its just that great. Recommended for anyone with an interest in the play, musicals in general, Hugh Jackman playing someone other than an X-Man or Anne Hathaway tearing your heart out in one brief, powerful moment. 4 1/2 stars out of 5.
photos by Jenn Deering Davis and Eva Rinaldi