Last week was busy and the weekend even busier, with weddings to attend left and right. For that reason, I’ve been unable to finish up a new book for review. However, I was able to fit in a movie date with my sister, to catch the big screen version of the famous Broadway musical “Les Misérables”. I enjoyed it so much that I just had to share it with you guys. Please be forewarned that there will be spoilers, but I have to say that knowing the entire story beforehand does not diminish the enjoyment of the film.
Les Misérables is based on the epic novel by Victor Hugo set in 19th century France. The story follows Jean Valjean, a convict who’d been locked up for 19 years for stealing bread. He receives parole after all those years, and after he gets out, he is fed, sheltered, and defended by a bishop, whose kindness shames him into making a vow to start an honest life. He breaks parole to start afresh and after eight years, he has a new identity as a well-respected factory owner and mayor. One night, he sees a very sick prostitute named Fantine being arrested. He rescues her and finds out that she used to work in his factory but was cruelly dismissed by his foreman. Valjean brings her to the hospital and promises the dying Fantine to fetch and take care of her daughter, Cosette. At the same time, he runs into the police inspector, Javert, who had been searching for years for this convict who skipped his parole. Javert suspects him to be the fugitive, but reveals that a man believed to be him had been captured and is being tried for his sin. Valjean wrestles with his conscience to allow another man to take his place in prison or to finally be completely free from Javert. His conscience wins and he reveals himself at the trial, orders them to release the other man, and is able to leave amidst the confusion of the court over the confession of their mayor. Then he goes off to retrieve Cosette from the Thénardiers, crooked innkeepers to whom Fantine unwittingly entrusted her daughter. They hurry off with Javert chasing close behind; as they try to get away they climb into the walls of a convent and is helped by a man whose life Valjean had previously saved.
Nine years later, the people are still miserable and a group of idealistic students plan a revolution. At the head is Enjolras and Marius, who catches a glimpse of the now grown up Cosette and immediately falls head over heels. Marius gets his friend Éponine, who is secretly in love with him, to find out where she lives and bring him there. He meets Cosette and they share a brief romantic exchange through the gate. A disturbance outside the house prompts Jean Valjean to believe that Javert has finally found him and he quickly takes Cosette and flees, but not before she was able to leave a note for Marius at the gate.
Meanwhile, the death of a beloved official triggers the beginning of the students’ revolution. The students stage their revolt at the funeral of the official and then put up a barricade to fight off the army. During the ensuing gun fight, Éponine saves Marius by taking a bullet meant for him. As she lay dying in his arms, she professes her love and then hands him the note that Cosette left, which she’d found and kept. Now knowing where Cosette is, Marius sends her a note, which her father intercepts. Realizing that his daughter has fallen in love with a boy, Jean Valjean then proceeds to the barricade to protect Marius.
When the students realize that the people of Paris are not joining their revolt, they vow to fight to the death. Marius is wounded and Valjean saves him by dragging him into the sewers, as the rest of the students get massacred. After Marius recovers, he goes back to the café where the revolutionary students used to meet and he is overwhelmed with grief and guilt that he is the only one left alive. However, Cosette is there with him to cheer him up, and later they marry. Satisfied with the thought that there is now someone to take care of his daughter, Jean Valjean confesses his criminal past to Marius and leaves to protect her from the possibility of being shamed if he is caught. He then goes back to the convent and prepares to die. Before he does, Marius and Cosette find him in time to bid their farewell.
In the end, we see Jean Valjean and Fantine join Enjolras, Gavroche and the other departed members of the revolution in a great big barricade, finally crowded with the people, probably to signify that their cause finally succeeds in heaven.
Hugh Jackman was absolutely amazing as Jean Valjean. He carries the entire movie with his presence, and his singing is not perfect, but just right for the role. When I say not perfect, I mean that he sometimes injects mutterings and rantings into his songs, so that he does not sing the entire piece, yet it works. Flawless singing would not have worked for Jean Valjean, with all his ups and downs, and Jackman’s method allows us to view him honestly through all that. Throughout the movie, we see him age, from a hardened convict to a sophisticated mayor, then to a broken old man.
Anne Hathaway plays Fantine, and her song number “I dreamed a dream” evoked all kinds of sadness in me. The song was haunting and even though I’ve heard it when I watched the trailers, watching her sing it again in the movie was like hearing it for the first time. She looked so pitiful and wretched, her despair so palpable that you can feel it. Although she only shows up in the early part of the movie and then at the end, her performance was so memorable that you remember her throughout. I believe she absolutely deserves all the nominations and awards she’s been getting as best supporting actress.
Amanda Seyfried looks angelic as Cosette. I feel like she is just there to be pretty and fragile. Her parts aren’t very emotional or highly charged, but her character is the heart of this story. She actually seems to be the cause of everything: Fantine ended up being a prostitute just to be able to send money for her, Valjean runs away from Javert yet again to be able to take care of her, Marius almost left the revolution just to find her, Valjean goes away to die to prevent causing her shame. The only thing she didn’t cause was the revolution! Seyfried played her part by singing daintily; nothing spectacular, just ok. But then again, other than falling in love, maybe Cosette wasn’t meant to be dramatic, having lead the sheltered life that Valjean gave her.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are the Thénardiers, the sneaky innkeepers who took in Cosette but made her work the whole time they had her. They were fantastic as the con artists, extremely entertaining to watch. Their number “Master of the house” was a very fun number, watching them work their scamming magic as they hoodwinked, pickpocketed, overcharged and pulled fast ones over their customers. Although their characters in no way make the situations better for our characters, their presence was the comic relief from what was a very depressing story. Although you’d love to hate their characters, you have to give it to them for livening up the movie.
Russell Crowe plays Javert, who relentlessly pursues Jean Valjean through the years. After he is captured by rebels and freed by Valjean, he is unable to resolve his duty to apprehend a fugitive with his morality that he owes Valjean one. He is tormented by the fact that he didn’t capture Valjean when he finally had the chance that he commits suicide. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with Crowe’s performance. While his singing was flawless- he has a great voice- I felt that his eyes were expressionless during his solo numbers. In fact, it felt like he only had one expression throughout the movie. He wasn’t bad, but next to the powerful acting of Jackman, Hathaway and Redmayne, he seemed kind of bland.
The students of the revolution were definitely the eye candy of the movie. Eddie Redmayne played Marius, Aaron Tveit played Enjolras. The two of them, together with the rest of the students, were wonderful. You felt their fire and anger at the injustices of their government. When you watch them do their numbers in the café, you feel their brotherhood and togetherness. They talk and act with conviction, and you can’t help but admire such a young idealistic group. Although this was taking place in 19th century Paris, you can almost imagine the same group in a more contemporary setting, and they would be the popular kids that everyone wants to hang out with. They just ooze with confidence. Redmayne’s portrayal of Marius was marvelous. He sang his parts with such emotion, I really feel that he did better than Crowe. His rendition of “Empty chairs at empty tables” for his fallen comrades was absolutely heart wrenching.
Special mention goes to the Samantha Barks, who played Éponine, and the kids who played Cosette and Gavroche. Isabelle Allen plays the child Cosette, who Valjean rescues from the inn where she’s being put to work. Daniel Huttlestone plays Gavroche, a street urchin who plays a big role in the revolution. While each of them were only onscreen for a short while, they did their roles impressively. Based on the cast interviews that I’ve seen, the actors mentioned that the unique thing about this movie was that all the takes were live, and they were singing as they filmed. That means that if they had to take 30 takes, they had to sing 30 times! While this couldn’t have been easy for any of them, I’m sure it would’ve been harder on the kids. However, they seemed to do it effortlessly, and you can’t help but feel a tug at your heart for each of these characters when they’re onscreen.
While it must be obvious by now that I am an admirer of the incredibly talented cast, I have to give just as much credit to the music. The music was amazing! I grew up knowing some of the songs, while the other songs are ones that I’ve only heard for the very first time. The songs were able to showcase all the talent, a mixture of love and triumph, of inner battles, of loss and anguish and despair. On top of all the other songs I’ve previously mentioned, the song of unrequited love “On my own” has been playing in my head for days now, as well as the chorus “Do you hear the people sing”. Hearing all those people singing that final number definitely makes your heart soar, and gives you a good feeling that even after all the tragedy of the movie, an impression that everything worked out in the end.
I’ve yet to see the Broadway musical of Les Misérables, so I don’t have a basis for comparison between the two. I’ve heard reactions to the movie both violently negative and enthusiastically positive. Some loyal fans of the musical seem to feel that the movie isn’t up to par, yet there are others who think that the movie was incredible. There is no way I can be considered a die-hard fan, having yet to read the book or watch the play. The only exposure I’ve had prior to this was another movie starring Liam Neeson which wasn’t even a musical version, so I hardly think I have any right to give any sort of proper feedback. Yet here it is, because from the point of view of a first timer, it was an amazing musical movie. It was extremely touching and emotional, it gave you a heck of a ride. I have to admit though, it’s not for everyone, but hey, epic films such as this rarely are. I’m pretty sure I can’t get my hubby to watch it even if I tied him to a chair and forced him to, period films are not for him. But if you’re someone who enjoys watching musicals-turned-into-films, then you definitely shouldn’t miss this one.
I enjoyed the entire movie experience immensely, although I had to hold back my tears as I was in a public movie theater. It would have been extremely embarrassing to come out of the movies with my eyes all bawled out. So yes, I am now a fan. Whether it was true to the book or not; whether it was better or worse than the Broadway musical, frankly , I don’t really care. All I know is that this movie exceeded my expectation, and I’m definitely watching it again when it comes out on DVD.
Rating: 5 stars. (I’m well aware that this isn’t a book review, but had it been a book, I’d have been itching to pick it up immediately after. As it is, I’m itching to watch the movie again!!)