“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Victor Hugo’s classic story of Jean Valjean seeking redemption against his pursuer Javert in the midst of a revolution is a powerful one that has already been adapted to film and the stage many times over the last fifty years. Academy Award winning director Tom Hooper is taking his crack at bringing the highly successful musical adaption to the big screen using some innovative and larger than life techniques. Does this movie capture the essence of the emotionally charged literary classic or is this a musical better left for the stage?
Les Miserables opens in 1815 France with an epic musical number that introduces prisoner 24601 Jean Valjean(Hugh Jackman) as he is released from prison with parole by the prison warden Javert(Russell Crowe). After leaving the prison Valjean finds his way to a convent where a priest offers him food and water. Valjean steals all the valuables he can get his hands on before he runs away, but is captured by the local authorities. The priest plays along with Valjean’s story about where he got the gold and silver items which later brings Valjean to an epiphany that will lead to him becoming a new person. The unintentional consequence of this new life lis Valjean’s missed parole which puts Javert on a lifelong pursuit of his old captive.
The movie does a little bit of time jumping; first to 1823 where Valjean has successfully forged a new identity and become the mayor of a town and the second being to 1832 where Valjean get mixed in with French Revolutionaries. Valjean’s story of redemption is a powerful, but sad one as he encounters many people along the way whose stories are ruined because of the world’s misfortunes. The most crucial character Valjean meets with is a woman named Fantine(Anne Hathaway) who loses her job at Valjean’s own factory and turns to prostitution to provide money for her daughter Cossette(Isabelle Allen/Amanda Seyfried). As the title suggests this is a story of a miserable time and place, but it also inspires hope and revolution.
The musical numbers in this movie range from decent to Oscar worthy fantastic. Nearly every song feels fitting for the scenarios and surprisingly none of them drag the movie along. After seeing this movie a second time I can definitely say that I have my favorites, but I think all of them are worthy of the story that is being told here. Anne Hathaway’s absolutely heart shattering performance of “I Dreamed A Dream” will bring even the coldest of hearts to their knees as she sings the song in a way that is most definitely going to put her up for an Oscar. A few of my personal favorites were “One More Day” in which the entire cast is singing about a battle that is doomed to ensue, “The Confrontation” which pits Javert against the reformed Valjean, “Look Down” where the young boy Gavroche joins in singing with the revolutionaries in the streets of Paris, and “Stars” where Javert pledges to God on the rooftops of France that he will never stop searching for Valjean and Cossette.
The story in this movie is fantastic and covers so many different characters and ideas that at times things did seem a little truncated. Having read and to some degree studied Victor Hugo’s writing I felt that many of the underlying spiritual and philosophical ideas were lost in favor of the character drama. This movie definitely highlights the core idea of the book which is redemption/revolution, but it glosses over the idea of the corrupt system that Valjean is defying as well as why the political system is there. This lack of this idea in many ways reduces the character Javert,who represents the system, to a cold-hearted bad guy who just can’t live with a free Valjean. These ideas are definitely present in this adaption, but there is little emphasis on much below the surface of the fantastic tale of human nature.
The acting in this movie is absolutely top notch and there is not one character I would have casted any different. Hugh Jackman turns in what may be his best performance yet in this role that it seems he was meant to play. Jackman’s lead performance is so good that he’ll definitely be my pick for lead actor at the Oscars this year. As I’ve already mentioned above, Hathaway turns in a brief,but surely Oscar winning performance that is so great that the movie never feels the same after she leaves the screen. There has been quite a bit of criticism laid on Russel Crowe for his turn as Javert, but I actually loved his portrayal of the character. His turn with this character is less emotional, more calculating, and less dynamic than the rest of the cast, but I found that this deeper and more grandiose voice fit the character to a tee.
Tom Hooper’s direction is absolutely excellent as it perfectly captures the emotional heart of this story and all of the characters in it. His tone of the movie is cinematic, but also classical as it captures the larger scope of France with the beautiful cathedrals and the dark and dirty slums of the city. It’s incredibly impressive that he is able to make the movie feel so big, but so personal at the same time. In many cases Hooper uses close-ups during the musical numbers to capture the entire range of emotions these characters are expressing in song. The movie looks gorgeous, but never feels overly showy which is yet another testament to how well Hooper is able to find a balance in the way everything looks and feels. This Oscar winner is certainly not losing his touch and he’ll surely be up for another nomination this year.
Les Miserables may not delve into or wrestle with many of the ideas and themes that have made the novel a timeless classic, but the movie does an immaculate job at keeping this a very human story with very flawed but lovable human characters. I had hoped for something a little bit different than what I saw, but what I saw was so powerfully moving that even on my second viewing I shed tears. This is a story that I hope is still shared with future generations and this iteration of the story is something I find to be absolutely unforgettable. The movie may have a few bumps and scratches here and there, but the beauty of what is being conveyed here is so much greater than any misstep the adaption may have taken.
The movie covers tons of ground in its long run time but still feels a bit truncated. The movie chooses to focus on the human elements of Les Miserables over the themes and ideas that run strong in the source material which makes for a more focused film, but left me personally a bit disappointed.
I did not think there was a single actor/actress that did not perfectly fit and portray their characters down to the the the boy who played Gavroche. Hugh Jackman is a fantastic lead who fits the role so well you’d think it was written for him. Anne Hathaway steals the show as Fantine with a song that will break the hearts of the heartless.
Tom Hooper continues to prove that he has a one of a kind talent for balancing the spectacular with the intimate. This movie was a huge undertaking and Hooper proves that he can deliver a fantastic adaption of the already hugely popular play
Overall Effectiveness of the Movie: 10
When this adaption decided to focus more on the the more human side of the story of Les Miserables it set itself up for making a certain type of movie that would either succeed or fail in spectacular fashion. Luckily because of a stellar cast and a one of a kind director this musical adaption manages to create an experience that pierces the heart on multiple occasions which left me absolutely stunned. To say this movie was effective would be an understatement.
Overall Score: 9.5
Original post can be found at TheMooreDaily.com