After the long wait “Les Miserables” finally opens this 2013. I have to say that from the moment I saw the trailer last year I have been looking forward to seeing this movie. I went to see Les Misérables together with my mom and although I don’t normally bother to write reviews I thought this might be an important on to talk about. I’ve been waiting…ohhh a year or so for this film, as I’m sure many others have, and I wanted to share my thoughts on it. I heard mixed reviews of it – some loved it, some hated it.
Even those who are not devotes of musical theater will find themselves emotionally manipulated by this latest version of — the novel, turned Broadway sensation, turned movie blockbuster of — Les Misérables on an epic scale. This film version is a particular tearjerker because of the much-discussed live-action-singing and some excellent casting.
The people who put “Les Misérables” on screen dreamed a great dream, they really did. They dreamed of filming one of the most popular of modern theatrical musicals – over millions of tickets sold all over the world. Director Tom Hooper has doubled down on the piece’s greatest strength, finding ways to magnify the musical’s ability to create those effects of overwhelming feelings in an audience. Themes of love, law, justice, grace, redemption and revolution run concurrently through this film from beginning to end.
From its first scene, the story set a fantastic image of a group of French convicts, circa 1815, trying to pull a floundering ship in the midst of a mighty storm, this production is visual to the max, with an epic physical scale.
It employed to sign the best, most convincing actors for these unsophisticated roles and to assist them in making the characters real by investing in them heart and soul. For protagonist Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), initially unrecognizable as a full-bearded emaciated convict – No. 24601 to be precise – who is part of the crowd wrestling with the struggling vessel. After serving 19 years hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread, is released on parole. Unable to find work as a marked man, he is offered refuge by a Bishop. During the night, he steals the Bishop’s silver, however, when caught by the authorities, the Bishop claims the silver was a gift. This unexpected gift of grace and mercy triggers a change in Jean Valjean, who breaks parole and promises to live a better life.
Also front and center in the scene is Javert (Russel Crowe), the film’s antagonist, the cold-hearted inspector-representative of the law. Crowe’s Javert doesn’t say it, he sings it right there in front of us. That allows them to bring the rich emotion of their entire performances.
The scene now shifts to 1823 and a town in France where, helped by a kindly Bishop and his own decision to break parole, Valjean has taken on a new identity and become a mayor and a wealthy factory owner.
For another, one of Valjean’s female employees, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), is unjustly fired as by his foreman. And, is wrongfully sacked and ends up selling her hair and her teeth and body. She plays a single mother who turns to prostitution to support her child takes a stab at everyone’s heart with her opening song. The portrait view, medium shot focuses solely on her as she sings, the blackness of the background only adding to the heavy atmosphere. It’s the perfect combination of music and visuals to evoke the best tear jerking response from the audience.
Forced to flee town, Valjean vows to raise Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), as his own. First however, he has to pry her out of the hands of scoundrels Monsieur (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter), in the “Master of the House”.
All these plot strands come together nine years later in Paris of 1832, where Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), now a beautiful young woman catches the eye of passionate would-be revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who is determined to fight at the barricades. He in turn is admired from afar by the lovelorn Eponine (Samantha Barks, equally good in “On My Own”), brings feminist heroism to a role that is usually played only as a pathetic lovelorn girl.
Daniel Huttlestone’s (Gavroche) small yet exciting role makes up for this. He plays a child revolutionary rebel and is one of the most fun actors to watch. He is naturally likeable and his stage death is one of the most heartbreaking.
Anne Hathaway, who plays Fantine, does such a knockout rendition of the showstopper “I Dreamed a Dream” that objecting is out of the question. It is one of the most impactful in movie: in one long, dramatic close up, she sings her heart out while breaking ours. It is delivered in its whole, acapella, as a tight shot of Hathaway’s face. We see in every quiver of her mouth, tears and flash of her eyes, the despair, humiliation, and in the end, fury she feels that life has killed the dream she dream. It’s fitting that powerful emotional connection to the role of mother who would do anything for her child. Yet, Hathaway gives complexity to a character that has previously only been portrayed as a martyr.
The film is different. It may leave you in tears this is an emotionally involving tale of people looking for hope in despair. The film has everything from romance, action, beautiful singing and a tad bit of humor. Whilst the melody is ever-present, here it is the story, the characters and their experiences that drive the movie forward. The story is clear and the performances are amazing.
The rest of the film focuses on tensions that increase between the government and its people, and a romance that forms between Cosette and Marius. With so much being packed into this movie, it is surprising how consistently strong the cast is. In particular Jackman shows surprising dramatic depth, very different from the actor I often associate with action movies. His performance basically carries most of the film. Russell Crowe is passable, but perhaps another actor might have been a better choice, as he doesn’t have much vocal range beyond a guttural growl.
There are two things I don’t really like in the film, first, are those repetitive close-ups of singing actors proving nothing, really. We know the actors are singing. We know their faces reflect emotion. Second, I found the editing to be excruciating, jumping from one scene to the next with no pauses between songs. This is where stage to film fails. There is never an actual physical changing of sets, no giving the audience an opportunity to applaud the performance and take a breather. Those technical mistakes are what keep “Les Misérables” from perfection, despite the actors’ strength, the songs’ catchiness, and the overall ambition of the project. It’s certainly worth watching, but that last half-hour—it will get on your nerves.
On the whole however, it wasn’t bad, is visually stunning, the costumes, sets, and make up are phenomenal and is worth every penny that went into it. The movie has everything to offer from love to religion, forgiveness and the resilience of the human spirit. Although it is flawed, “Les Misérables” is destined for myriad Oscar nominations. And though it probably won’t be remembered as the best film of the year, it will be remembered as one of the biggest.
Here’s the trailer for those who haven’t watch it.