[Review] Les Misérables

AT THE END OF THE DAY, HERE COME THE OSCARS

In 19th Century France, ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) decides to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) daughter despite being ruthlessly hunted down by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) decades after Valjean breaks parole.  The decisions that Valjean and Javert make changes their life forever in midst of anti-monarchist movements in the backdrop.

Cast Of Les Misérables – One Day More

Cast Of Les Misérables – One Day More

You know a lot of audiences are very savvy about media these days and many now approach big blockbuster films claiming it’ll sweep at the Oscar with caution.  That’s pretty much how I approached the movie.  Sure, the cast is big and fantastic.  Director Tom Hooper’s last movie, The King’s Speech, was a great movie.  And the material here is still relevant after all these years.  The formula seemed almost too easy.  However, upon watching the movie, you realize that nothing came easily in the making of the film.

Hugh Jackman lost an incredible amount of weight in order to play Valjean the convict and then gains some of it back for Valjean the reborn.  The visual change is so drastic but vital to the role as you can literally feel the passing of time as this man transforms from a miserable wretch to someone who has been redeemed.  Adding to that is Hugh Jackman’s voice.  His singing is so full of suffering and remorse.

Anne Hathaway appears briefly as Fantine but she packs such a punch.  She goes through a transition herself.  From the pure, young woman, she is forced to prostitute herself in order to send money for her daughter.  I’ve heard “I Dreamed a Dream” many times but the scene here is incredibly degrading.  There aren’t many retakes you can do with this scene as you see Fantine being defiled right before your eyes.  Her hair is shorn with shears, teeth are pulled (and you know I had to look for the missing tooth while she was singing) and forced to put out.  There’s really not much acting going on there.  She is feeling what Fantine would have felt.  It’s very powerful.

Anne Hathaway – I Dreamed A Dream

Anne Hathaway – I Dreamed A Dream

Amanda Seyfried does a decent job as the older Cosette but Isabelle Allen as young Cosette just draws you in with her eyes.  There is something hauntingly beautiful with her young Cosette.

Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and the older Éponine (Samantha Banks) are powerful as the rebellious anti-monarchists.

It’s weird to see the differences between the young and older Cosette next to the young and older Éponine because their fortunes have so drastically reversed that I almost view the characters differently from their younger versions.

Monsieur and Madame Thénardier are played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter respectively who provide the comic relief as the shady tavern owners.  Is anyone really at all that surprised that they delivered?

Finally, there’s Russell Crowe as Javert.  “Look Down” is the first number of the movie and it’s definitely a powerful number.  Javert is steely-eyed while looking down on the convicts.  Though Russell Crowe embodies almost all that is Javert, I can’t quite say his voice is what I pictured Javert’s voice to sound like.  And it’s only about a minute into the movie when you hear his high-pitched singing.  I imagined my Javert to be a low baritone.

Speaking of Russell Crowe, Adam Lambert made headlines recently for comments he made via Twitter about “great actors PRETENDING to be singers” which Crowe politely responded back to.  Well, we have definitely seen way too many great singers pretending to be actors and I don’t think the movie had poor singing.  Perfect singing isn’t the purpose of musicals anyway; it’s musical acting and that’s precisely what this cast does and does well.

Perhaps, Lambert would have preferred the cast’s voices to be recorded in a studio to have the crisp, dubbed sound.  However, I think it is ingenious that Tom Hooper decided to film the actors singing live especially for a musical like Les Misérables.  If they would have done something like that for Chicago, it’s just not something that would have worked for that musical.

Some have said that shooting it this way resembles the live theater going experience and I have to respectfully disagree.  Watching the musical on stage does make it come alive and it’s raw but there is somewhere movies can go that the stage cannot.  The cameras get so up close in that space which make the scenes feel so intimate and awkwardly too close for comfort.  I always feel a little bit more detached while watching a stage play.  And then to hear the imperfectly enunciated singing amongst the actor’s sobs is wholly heartbreaking that words cannot accurately describe how much I commiserated with the characters’ agony.  On stage, the actors have to project more widely and it’s a different experience.

Cast Of Les Misérables – Epilogue

Cast Of Les Misérables – Epilogue

Simply put, if you are a crier, make sure you bring plenty of tissues.  I pretty much lost it during “Valjean’s Soliloquy” which is still very early on in the movie.

Hugh Jackman – Valjean’s Soliloquy

Hugh Jackman – Valjean’s Soliloquy

Rating

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