In opera, emotion on steroids, and music at its most challenging and magical makes suspension of disbelief possible for plots that do not bear close examination.
The same might well be said of "Les Misérables
". Except that if you are going to the film to hear operatic standards of singing, you will be disappointed.
Except by the singing of Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne. The rendition of "I dreamed a dream" may well take its place as one of the all-time highlights of musical theatre, and this performance alone makes the show worthwhile. Eddie Redmayne's "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" is unforgettable.
And yet – Tom Hooper's direction surmounts any perceived imperfections. Indeed in a sense, the imperfections become its strengths.
A massive risk pays off, where Tom Hooper insists that his cast wear throat microphones later painstakingly erased frame by frame. The superb cast then recorded (with no spoken dialogue) their parts directly to a live piano backing, enabling them to make their performances immediate, intense and emotional.
Hugh Jackman, bearded and haggard, is totally convincing as Jean Valjean, convict 24601, who becomes a caring employer and loving adopted father, while being pursued by the implacable Javert (Russell Crowe). Neither will win Oscars because of their singing – and yet they may win Oscars for their performances, as the very imperfections come across as part of the overwhelming impact of strongly defined characters expressing passionately experienced emotions.
Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are excellent comic relief as Cosette's light-fingered wards even if they come across as refugees from Sweeney Todd.
The first scene, where wretched convicts wrestle a huge wooden ship into a dry dock, sets the massive scale of the back-cloth against which the drama is played.
The scene shifts to Paris in 1932, and a love triangle where Samantha Barks as the revolutionary Eponine falls hopelessly in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who falls for Cosette (Amanda Setfried).
The revolution fails in a blood bath. Javert is captured, and saved by Valjean. Valjean saves Marius, in an unforgettable journey through the nauseatingly realistic sewers of Paris. And Javert cannot cope with his world order having been reversed by the compassion of Valjean.
Love, loss, revenge, and redemption – themes worthy of an opera. Add superb cinematography, a stellar cast and music which memorably conveys passion and emotion.
Les Misérables" was a huge gamble, and it wins wonderfully.