Cheers and a standing ovation this afternoon at the first screening of the film version of “Les Miserables.” Tom Hooper, Oscar winner for The King’s Speech, has made a thrilling, sensational epic of the legendary Broadway show. This now becomes the “Titanic” of this year’s awards season, the epic film to beat. Hugh Jackman is a triumph as Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway sings the heck out of the film’s big numbers, and Samantha Barks just about steals the film. Russell Crowe makes for a solid Javert. And the many supporting players, especially Aaron Tveit, Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried, are top notch.
Universal Pictures with help from Peggy Siegal put on two blockbuster screenings this afternoon and this evening at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Anne Hathaway, husband Adam Schulman, and Anne’s parents Gerry and Kate sat right in front of me. It was the second time this week that Anne, who plays Fantine, sat down and watched the film all the way through. Hooper gives her the first of his many signature closeups as she sings “I Dreamed a Dream” and brings down the house. As Fantine, Hathaway breathes life into the tortured waif whose saga spurs Jean Valjean through the post-French Revolution years and student uprisings of he 1830s. She will be a Best Supporting Actress nominee. And with any luck she’ll sing on the Oscars.
Jackman and co-star Crowe were not present tonight, but Hathaway, Redmayne, Barks and director Hooper sat for a Q&A with Columbia film professor Annette Insdorf. We learned that there was no lipsynching–everything was sung live, and you can feel it. Barks and Tveit, however, are the Voices with a capital V in this film. There is no denying their accomplishment in this inordinately well cast film.
The other pair who stand out are Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, straight out of Tim Burton’s film of “Sweeney Todd.” (“Les Miz” diehards won’t like this, but much of this show is influenced, ahem, by “Sweeney Todd” and Stephen Sondheim.) HBC and SBC are absolutely hilarious and wily together. They also get to sing “Master of the House,” the comic number with loads of nods to “More Hot Pies” from the other musical. As Cossette’s guardians, and parents of Eponine (Barks), they are indelible fun.
And then there’s Hugh Jackman. He’ll be nominated for Best Actor and will likely win. The movie hangs on him, and he carries it from beginning to end. It’s his best work ever, the pinnacle for him as he combines his musical and dramatic talents. Hooper said in the Q&A he wouldn’t have made the movie if Jackman didn’t exist, and he’s right. This is the role of a lifetime, like Robert Goulet in “Camelot.” Wolverine may have to break out in song in his next film.
Tom Hooper steered this ship, and it’s a massive cruise liner. The thing Hooper does so well is bring history to life–whether it’s John Adams or Queen Elizabeth I or the stuttering King George. In the “John Adams” miniseries, there’s a great breakfast scene in which John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin all get together in Paris. It’s as if we’re eavesdropping on these famous but inaccessible people. In “Les Miz,” Hooper pulls off just this trick. The canvas is broad but the characters are intimate and so well drawn that you feel you know them, and their French revolt, by the time the end comes.
I went to the 25th anniversday show of “Les Miz” at the O2 Arena in London a couple of years ago. People from around the world are devoted to this show. These armies of “Les Miz” fans will not be disappointed by this film. Something tells me they will see it three and four times.