People like to cry, especially if it's over something that ultimately has no personal impact to them. You get the catharsis of unleashing your most passionate inner emotions, with the only consequence being that the person in the next seat might giggle at you. For 25 years, millions of teary eyes have filled the theaters where Les Misérables was being performed, and many of them are sure to come out in droves to Tom Hooper's bombastic big-screen adaptation, which will satisfy fans of the musical with the same visceral emotion and melodic dialogue that will divide the rest of the movie-going populace.
The film starts off with a bang, as the camera swoops in above a massive horde of prisoners rowing a galley under the watch of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who dresses sort of like Captain Crunch but isn't nearly as fun. He considers every criminal irredeemable, even Prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who's served 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. After he skips parole and transforms into a wealthy business-owner, Valjean spends the rest of his life attempting to be a good man by caring for Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of his emaciated factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway), all while Javert is in hot pursuit.
Hooper's decision to have all the actors sing live on camera was the perfect one for this particular production, mainly because the overwrought emotion is a major part of the play's appeal. When Hathaway destroys "I Dreamed A Dream" in a single, uncut take, you can feel the pain dripping from her with every word she cries (you can't feel too bad for her though -- she's very aware she'll be sleeping next to an Oscar statuette in a few months). Same with Samantha Barks's Eponine, who pines for Marius (Eddie Redmayne) so much during the rain-soaked "On My Own" that you can't tell where the raindrops end and the tears begin. There are so many different threads happening at once (especially by the time the Paris Uprising comes along), all of which are heart-wrenching enough to emotionally exhaust you by the end of the 160-minute film. Thankfully, Sacha Baren Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter lighten the mood in their scenes, most notably during the sneaky "Master of the House" number, with Carter finally coming out of her comfort zone by choosing to play a messy eccentric.
For Les Mis fans, there's not any clear reason to dislike this version, since the setting is filmed so majestically and the entire cast puts on a superb vocal performance (Crowe's voice has some detractors, but it's perfectly adequate, if not exactly typical). It may be more of a hurdle for non-musical fans, who won't be able to get past Jackman's scene-chewing over-acting (for all the praise he's getting, he's probably the weakest of the cast) or the many intense close-ups of wide-eyed singing faces. The soundtrack, while iconic, isn't exactly catchy, since the songs (aside from the thumping "Do You Hear the People Sing?") don't have choruses, so the audience may roll their eyes at some of the cheesier, non-rhyming, conversational lines and the story's overly simplistic morality (Javert: It's a loaf of bread -- live and let live, man). But if you're not looking to accept all that, you're in the wrong place. Because this was the only way to film this musical.
Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.