So let me just be very blunt: Anne Hathaway will win the Oscar for her performance in Les Miserables as the tragic Fatine. She’ll also win the Golden Globe. And the SAG. And the Critics’ Awards. And then some.
This is a performance of such raw power and poetic transcendence that, even as brief as her role may be, it is impossible to think of another performance in the last twelve months of Hollywood cinema releases that packs as potent a punch. She outdoes anything and everything that all the superheroes in all the summer blockbusters and Victorian heroines in all the independent period pieces have done – put together. I haven’t felt like this about a performance since Mo’Nique in Precious or Nicole Kidman in The Hours. It’s haunting and devastating. And flat out awesome. (I also have a feeling that her rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” will quickly become as overplayed as Madonna’s rendition of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” from Evita).
Now, as for the rest of the movie, that depends on how you feel about musicals. I have a theory that few Broadway musicals – even the much beloved ones like Les Miserables – can only be translated to film if the essential component of music is given secondary status to the more vital element of plot. It’s easy to get swept up in the majesty of a live musical performance on stage. If you’re having to sit through nine or 10 or a dozen songs in a movie theater, it can begin to feel a bit claustrophobic. Ergo, it must be plotted very, very carefully.
Thankfully, director Tom Hooper gives just the right touch to this sweeping adaptation of what is quite likely the most beloved musical of all time. And much of the credit goes to the cast (apart from the aforementioned Hathaway) who nail their parts like you’ve never seen them do so before. Hugh Jackman literally masters the part of Jean Valjean, the wayward Frenchman who is imprisoned for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Given that his role is almost entirely sung, you have to step back for a moment and consider how he managed to pull if off so well. Every facial expression and enunciated syllable is, for lack of a better word, perfect.
Non-animated musicals are a tricky business in Hollywood. For some reason, audiences are skeptical to accept their matinee idols singing ballads with the support of 100 piece orchestras. I hope they are able to put aside that prejudice this Christmas, because this is one of those rare, historical cinematic events that happens but once or twice in a generation. Sit back, open your eyes and ears, and behold the spectacle of Les Miserables.