Review: Les Miserables (2012 Film)

Directed by: Tom Hooper
Screenplay by: William Nicholson, Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, & Herbert Kretzmer.
Based on the Broadway musical written by Alain Boubil & Claude-Michel Schonberg.
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo.

So….never have actually reviewed a movie on here. Always meant to, never got around to it. But I rewatched the newest film version of Les Miserables this weekend, and I can’t quite contain myself. I should probably stick my disclaimers here……No, I have yet to read the actual book. It’s sitting on my shelf, just waiting for me to devote three months to it. Maybe this summer, we’ll see. No, I haven’t seen this performed on Broadway. I really want to, but the opportunity hasn’t presented itself. So there may be some of you out there disappointed because one of your favorite bits from the stage production got cut out, but I wouldn’t know the difference. Sorry. Anyway, I thought it was stellar. I could only find one or two things to complain about, honestly.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it is set in post-Revolutionary France. We are introduced to Jean Valjean, a man serving a 19-year sentence on a hard-labor work gang for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew. When his sentence is finally up, he is released but told that he must carry his identification papers at all times–they mark him a criminal, and he must report in on a regular basis or be faced with violating his parole and immediate arrest. Unfortunately for Valjean, nobody will hire him because of his criminal record. He is faced with starvation until a Bishop takes pity on him and brings him into his church, feeds him, and gives him a place to sleep for the night. Hardened by nineteen years on the work gang and facing a merciless world of starvation, Valjean awakens early and absconds with the church’s silver. He doesn’t get far before a group of soldiers catch him and return him to the church, where the Bishop tells them that he in fact gave Valjean the silver as a gift–no crime has been commited. After they are gone, he tells Valjean that he has redeemed him for God and expects him to use the silver to become an honest man. Valjean then has to face what he has become and decide how he will proceed with his life in light of this undeserved and unlooked-for grace that he has been shown. But according to Javert, guard of Valjean’s workgang and later an Inspector for the French police, this kind of redemption is impossible. Once a criminal, always a criminal. And once Valjean decides to break parole and start a new life, Javert will stop at nothing to bring him to justice. (This is maybe the first twenty minutes–I’m barely scratching the surface here.) The resulting tale unfolds against the backdrop of the poverty and political unrest of France in the early 1800s and is an unforgetable and moving portrait of the redemptive power of grace.

This story has been adapted multiple times, whether it be film, radio or abridged versions of the novel. I’m usually a staunch opponent of abridgement, but in this case I can understand. I’ll read the real book, thank you very much, but I can understand the desire to simplify this behemoth of a novel. This particular film is itself adapted from the 1980 Broadway stage production by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, and so is nearly operatic in form–all but about ten lines of the film are sung, and those ten mark places where the script has been cut down to trim the four-hour stage show to the film’s runtime of two and a half hours. Personally, I think there are a few more places where they could have simply spoken, as it sounds a little disjointed (I suspect that these spots mark other, less drastic cuts, but I could be wrong as I have never seen the stage version) but on the whole the result is powerful and incredibly well-acted. The words are so powerful that I reccomend watching with the subtitles enabled, just to ensure you don’t miss anything.

Kudos to Tom Hooper for being able to bring this to the screen–I’m sure it was no easy task! Also kudos to Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg for their excellent stage show and their work in helping with the film. I’ll just go ahead and give a blanket congratulations to all the people working behind the scenes. But for me, the cast of the film is what blew me away…..
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean: Dissing Hugh Jackman is a favorite passtime for some people, but I just don’t understand this. Sure, I’m an inveterate comic book geek and loved his turn as Wolverine in the X-Men films (Okay, so X3 and Wolverine Origins sucked, but that had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the writing), but he was simply outstanding in this. Did you know he could sing? Not only that, but he can act at the same time! Some have criticized his performance here, citing a couple places where his voice breaks or he does something un-singerly like sob in the middle of a song….Again, I don’t get this. I think these moments only add to the performance! His character is having an existential crisis! His character is falling apart, and you can tell! I’ll take the sobs and vocal quirks over a perfectly enunciated performance any day.
-Russel Crowe as Inspector Javert: The brunt of criticism for this movie, so far as I can see, was directed at Russel Crowe’s performance as the film’s antagonist. Again, I don’t get it. He’s maybe a little weak in his first number, but it’s kind of an awkward bit to sing. All of his other numbers, especially Stars and his last song (to give you the title would be a spoiler) are excellently rendered. He brings enormous gravitas to his role as the Inspector who feels himself honor-bound to bring down Valjean.
-Anne Hatheway as Fantine: Going into the theatre and looking at the poster, I idly wondered why Anne Hatheway rated equal billing with the film’s other top stars–sure, she’s excellent, but I knew the story and how little screen time she would get. Let me say this right now: I was right about the screen time. But–BUT!–I was ever so wrong about her deserving top billing. Ms. Hatheway absolutely steals the show with her performance as Fantine, a poor woman forced into prostitution to feed her daughter, and if there is a dry eye in the house at the end of her song I Dreamed A Dream you are truly heartless.
-Amanda Seyfried as Cosette: The character of Cosette isn’t really that complicated, but Ms. Seyfried puts in a very solid performance. The romance subplot feels very sudden and underdeveloped, but that is not in any way the fault of Seyfried or Eddie Redmayne, who plays Marius. I suspect it has more to do with material being cut for the film version. At any rate, she sells her character, and her musical numbers were surprisingly good.
-Isabelle Allen as Young Cosette: The young Ms. Allen is absolutely adorable, and somehow manages to look identical to the woodcut of her character that has served as the iconic image for the show for nearly thirty years. (See the poster above) She doesn’t get much screen time, but she does an excellent job with what she’s given.
-Eddie Redmayne as Marius Pontmercy: Mr. Redmayne’s character, Marius, is a young Parisian student and one of the leaders among the revolutionaries when he sees Cosette across a crowded marketplace and is smitten. (I did mention that the romance was a bit sudden…..) Now Marius must decide whether to join his fellows in their bid to overthrow the King, risking his life and future when he finally has something to live for. Mr. Redmayne’s performance is excellent, and when he sings his song Empty Chairs At Empty Tables near the end I challenge you once more to find a dry eye.
-Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers: These two serve as the only real “villains” of the film, but they also serve as the much-needed comic relief. Throughout the film, these two are delightfully greedy and nefarious. The film would be much less fun without them.
-Samantha Barks as Eponine: Yet another show-stealing actor/actress in a minor role. Eponine is the daughter of the villainous Thenardiers and friend of Marius, who she secretly loves and who keeps sending her on errands to help him woo Cosette. Her rain-drenched performance of the song On My Own is yet another heart-wrencher.
-Aaron Tveit as Enroljas: Enroljas is the leader of the revolutionaries and a friend of Marius. A very solid performance.
-Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche: Huttlestone gives a rousing performance as the youngest of the revolutionaries, a young Parisian street urchin.

Powerful as it is, this is not a film for kids. It is rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.
Sexual content: For the most part, this is Fantine’s subplot. Driven from her factory job when it is discovered that she has an illegitimate daughter, Fantine finds herself forced into prostitution in order to keep sending money to the Thenardiers for her daughter’s care. There are numerous prostitutes in evidence, and the accompanying song, Lovely Ladies is ridden with innuendo. And yet to remove or censor any of this would be to remove the heart of the film. There are some other innuendos evident in the Thenardiers’ song Master Of The House, and while a couple of those could theoretically be removed the sequence serves as much-needed comic relief. On the whole, it isn’t very explicit and I would certainly not avoid seeing it on account of this.
Language: Mild language, nearly always necessary to get the point across.
Violence: There is a battle between the revolutionaries and the soldiers, and people die. On the whole it isn’t very gory, but a couple of the deaths are emotionally weighted.

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