(M) Universal DVD/BD
As directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) this film is rich with layers of visual metaphor as it explores the themes of grace, sacrifice, forgiveness, law and betrayal.
As the film opens Valjean sings “Look Down” set against a digitally enhanced shipping port, he helps haul an enormous ship into a dock. The prisoners pull on ropes, while singing during lashing rain, with Javert glaring down at them.
By the time the scene ends, Valjean hasn’t just been handed his release papers after 19 years as a prisoner, he has also become a Christ figure, hoisting a huge wooden flagpole on to his shoulder.
Javert similarly is not black and white as the villain; instead he is a man conflicted by law, duty and resolve. Unable to accept the grace and mercy of Valjean, the film literally (in a few well shot scenes) has Javert walking the precipice of his decision to pursue Valjean.
Hooper’s decision to have the actors sing live instead of lip-syncing, though not new to cinema, is what gives the film much needed power and emotional impact.
The film’s epic feel (augmented through CGI) is something the stage can never really duplicate, but this never detracts from the each character’s performance. The camera moves from epic to intimate to cleverly underscore the themes in the narrative.
The performances are uniformly excellent from the smallest part to the largest, with Jackman the stand-out as the huge-hearted Valjean. His ability to add nuance to the songs that have been around for decades helps breath new life into this film adaptation.
Every actor has a show-stopping tune, but it’s perhaps Jackman and Hathaway who give the film its heart as they sing “To love another person is to see the face of God.”