Les Misérables

Cast:
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean
Russell Crowe as Javert
Anne Hathaway as Fantine
Eddie Redmayne as Marius
Amanda Seyfried as Cosette
Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier
Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier
Samantha Barks as Éponine
Isabelle Allen as Young Cosette
Aaron Tveit as Enjolras
Colm Wilkinson as Bishop of Digne
Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche
Patrick Godfrey as Gillnormande
Marc Pickering as Montparnasse
George Blagden as Grantaire
Bertie Carvel as Bamatabois
Alistair Brammer as Jean Prouvaire
Fra Fee as Courfeyrac
Natalya Angel Wallace as Young Eponine
Killian Donnelly as Combeferre

Directed by Tom Hooper

Summary:
Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the excellent cast make “Les Misérables” an enjoyable film even for people that aren’t fans of musicals. Impressive production design and live signing on the set make it noteworthy, but the story does tend to be a little long and repetitive.

Story:
“Les Misérables” is based on the stage musical which is in turn is based on the story by Victor Hugo from 1862.

Several years after the French Revolution, things are going bad in the country once again as a new king rises to the throne. The rich remain rich and the poor are as bad off as ever. Amid this setting, Jean Valjean finds himself in prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread as well as for numerous escape attempts. There, he has been constantly harassed by prison guard Javert. Valjean is finally released, but when he returns to society he finds himself an outcast and unable to find work. He begins to turn into the thief he was unfairly labeled as. But after a religious epiphany, Valjean resolves to break his parole, create a new identity, and start his life over.

Six years later, Valjean has become the mayor of a town and a successful businessman, but his world is turned upside down when Javert arrives in town as the new police inspector. Valjean becomes consumed with worry that he will be recognized. Unfortunately, this distracts him from the plight of one of his employees, Fantine. Harassed by the other workers and an evil manager, Fantine loses her job and is forced to become a prostitute in order to support her young daughter Cosette. Eventually Valjean learns of her plight, but he is too late to save her. Fantine dies, but not before Valjean promises to locate Cosette and care for her. But unfortunately, Javert discovers Valjean’s true identity. Now on the run, Valjean must stay one step ahead of his nemesis if he’s going to keep his promise.

“Les Misérables” is rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.

What Worked:
I must confess that I’m not a huge musical fan. I’ve seen a few musicals on the stage and screen over time and I’ve enjoyed them, but I don’t go out of my way to see them. And while I had heard of “Les Misérables,” I knew very little about it. But I was certainly willing to give this movie a shot and I’m always up for seeing Wolverine sing, so I went into this film with an open mind. While it didn’t magically turn me into a musical fan, I did find it entertaining.

For those like me who don’t regularly watch musicals, it does take a while to get used to everybody singing all of the time. There are no breaks here where characters deliver lines of dialogue. They sing every single line in the film. Fortunately the film is kicked off by Hugh Jackman and he sells it well. Jackman comes from a theatrical background, so he’s in his element here. It doesn’t take you long to roll with the musical thing. And the fact that they filmed the singing live on set and not with lip syncing to a pre-recorded track adds an interesting dimension to it. This is especially the case as they do long takes with all of the actors. The end result is something different yet interesting.

After getting over the musical element, the next thing you notice about the film is the impressive production design. The film opens with a spectacular effects scene where the prisoners are pulling a ship into dry dock. You see a grizzled Hugh Jackman wearing rags and sporting a beard and short hair. The film then transitions to various post-revolutionary locations in France. It’s easy to overlook just how many visual effects there are in this film, but the sweeping overhead shots and large sets really help expand this beyond what could be done on a theater stage. It’s all quite impressive.

Despite the cool effects and detailed costumes, it’s the actors that really make “Les Misérables” work. We already knew Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Amanda Seyfried could act, but this film really shows off their full range of talents. Hugh Jackman is excellent as Jean Valjean, a true hero. He places others ahead of himself and no matter how he’s beaten down, his moral compass remains true. Jackman makes him tortured and emotional, but you’re always drawn to his character. And, as we always knew, the dude can sing. Anne Hathaway isn’t in the film very long as Fantine, but she makes a tremendous impact with what little time she has. She sings the signature song “I Dreamed a Dream” and knocks it out of the park with an incredibly emotional rendition. It’s even more impressive that she did it in one long take and live on the set. Russell Crowe reminds me of a singing Gerard from “The Fugitive” in his role as Javert. He doggedly pursues Valjean and makes a solid villain. Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried are also both good, but Samantha Barks really stands out as Éponine. She’s a fresh face on the screen, so she really becomes the character for the audience over the course of the film. Barks played her character in the stage version of the “Les Misérables,” so needless to say she has the singing talent to match anything offered by the more cinematically experienced cast. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen round out the supporting cast and provide much needed comic relief amid this otherwise dark film. But there appearance is very reminiscent of their work in “Sweeny Todd.”

While the music from “Les Misérables” has been around for years, it was mostly new to me. I was somewhat familiar with “I Dreamed a Dream” and it’s definitely one of the better songs in the film, especially when performed by Hathaway. But the song “Do You Hear The People Sing?” is a showstopper as well. The entire cast singing it together is a great moment of the movie. The comedic “Master of the House” is also fun. There are a few duets and that turn into trios and are musically impressive. “A Little Fall of Rain” is one of them and it really showcases the talents of Barks, Seyfried, and Redmayne.

What Didn’t Work:
While I did like “Les Misérables,” I did have some problems with it. One big one was the conclusion of the story. In it we see Marius and his friends revolting in the streets against the government. But, honestly, I had a hard time understanding what specifically they were fighting against and what they were trying to accomplish. Yeah, they hated the rich and the government, but I didn’t entirely follow the goal. So when they ultimately fail, it seems like they were pretty pathetic revolutionaries who wasted their lives. Did they inspire change? Did they inspire further revolution? The movie doesn’t really say so it ends up feeling like a tremendous waste of life even when everyone is singing in the rousing finale.

The story is also somewhat repetitive. Javert corners Valjean, Valjean freaks out, Valjean narrowly escapes, Javert continues his pursuit. This happens around four times over the course of the film and starts feeling overdone. But I suppose that’s the fault of the original story, not the movie.

One highlight of the film is when Tom Hooper brings the camera in very close on his actors and has them sing incredibly emotional songs on very long, single takes. Jackman is the first to do it and it’s very impressive. Then Hooper does it again with Hathaway and it’s again quite impressive. But then by the third time he does it with Crowe, you start seeing what he’s doing. By the time it is done a third, fourth, and fifth time with Barks, Seyfried, and Redmayne, it starts to feel more like a gimmick and less like a way to bring the audience intimately closer with the characters. I think using a little more variety in technique would have served Hooper better.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re already a “Les Misérables” fan, I think you will be quite happy with this film version. But if you’re not a big musical fan like me, I think you’ll still find it worth checking out just to see something different.

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