I’m not a big fan of Musicals. The idea of grown men and women prancing about singing in pristine clear studio voices feels unnatural and uncomfortably closer to Bollywood than I like to keep myself. Which is why, when I heard the kind of acclaim Tom Hooper was getting for Les Misérables, I was curious more than excited. Little did I know that what I was about to see was going to eliminate any shred of negative bias I had towards this genre.
You know the kind of gap people talk about between staged theatre and on-screen movies, the distinct difference between a calculated exaggeration of an actor who performs live and an actor with a camera in his face? The gap that has disproved the age old assertion, that the world of cinema will ultimately eliminate traditional theatre entirely? Les Misérables does the impossible by merging the opponents. It is, in one word – beautiful.
The plot is simple, perhaps even a bit clichéd. But when a movie is delivered like this one was, the happy endings don’t really matter. The director has introduced a sense of profound sadness, and carried on to show how peace and happiness eventually grows out the deepest pits of fear as well. If I were to give it an analogy, I’d say it was like a delicate leaf growing from a gap in a stone wall – an apparent impossibility, but a phenomenon we’ve all witnessed.
Set in 19th-century France, Hugh Jackman plays an ex-prisoner to perfection, vastly dissimilar and far surpassing the likes of a gritty Wolverine. The word ‘hope’, and the lack of it, takes a whole new meaning after accurate portrayals of every variation of it on Jackman’s face. The fear in his defiance, the subtleties in his movements – all played out thoroughly engage a viewer, making one forget it’s actually onscreen and not live.
Anne Hathaway, despite sharing a minimal on screen duration with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, outdoes herself in one of her best performances till date. From confusion, to desperation to pleas of mercy, Hathaway goes beyond the ordinary, especially with a voice that just might move one to tears against the backdrop of it’s introduction. Academy award thoroughly deserved I’d say.
Coming from the success of ‘The King’s Speech’, Tom Hooper pulled off a rather dangerous stunt, by allowing the actors to become the singers themselves, and ACTUALLY sing live while recording the scenes. This gives the movie a sense of realism and accuracy absent in musicals like Sweeney Todd and Mamma Mia. Usually, dedicated singers record in studios, and actors do what their title suggest – act. But when you have a person who’s singing while recording, the scope for impromptu additions and minor modifications made to suit the situation result in it sounding lesser rehearsed and better in every way.
Special mention must be made here for the effortless performance of 10 year old Isabelle Allen, who plays Cosette in the beginning of the movie. Her part was rather short-lived, but her acting coupled with stunningly accurate make up, culminated in extremely moving and beautifully crafted scenes.
Finally – Russell Crowe, as expected, plays Inspector Javert to perfection. Ruthless, yet soft in a way that can’t be expressed, Crowe chases Jackman, in scene after scene with unshakable faith in his sense of justice – all expressed in the form of a deep vocal prowess that counters Jackman’s firm deflections.
If you love theatre – you must watch this. If you love cinema – you must watch this. If you love music – you must watch this.
For it is truly – Musical Melancholy – at it’s best.