Les Miserables: A Movie Review
I have just now returned from seeing the movie, "Les Miserables" and I am so excited about it that I needed to write a review right away. I have not ever seen the Broadway version of Les Miserables. But I have seen the 25th-anniversary show on PBS. Before seeing the movie, I was not that interested in seeing a show about people with rotten teeth looking poor and depressed in a period where every day seemed like an agony to live through. This is not usually the type of movie I am interested in seeing. But my daughter saw it and said it was fantastic, especially Anne Hathaway, even though she was not even in the whole movie because her character dies halfway through. So, being a moderate fan of Anne Hathaway's work, and knowing the Broadway production of this was a classic, I decided to go. I was totally blown away and consider Les Miserables one of the best movies I have ever seen in my life.
If you aren't familiar with the basic story, it centers around the French Revolution. Jean Valjean is a prisoner in jail when we first meet him. He was first imprisoned 19 years earlier for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister and her starving child. He actually only received a 5-year sentence but more time was added on when he tried to escape. He is guarded by a very strict guard who believes totally in seeing justice done according to the letter of the law, regardless of the circumstances. On this day in the first scene, we meet Jean and the guard, Javert. Javert tells Valjean that he is on parole but must not do anything wrong ever again, or he will find him. Val Jean has a hard time finding work because he must carry papers with him wherever he goes, and no one wants to hire him because he is a criminal.He stumbles upon a monastery where he is taken in and given food and a place to stay. Before morning, he steals silver and leaves, but is captured by police. They return him to the monastery, telling the bishop that Valjean had the nerve to tell them that Valjean says that the silver was a gift. The Bishop tells them Valjean was correct and hands him two silver candlesticks which the Bishop says Valjean forgot to take. The police leave and the Bishop tells Valjean to be kind to others. Valjean has an epiphany and vows to change his ways. We catch up with him a few years later where he is the Mayor of a town in France. He owns a factory, and there is a ruckus one day between some women who are fighting with a woman named Fantine, who has a child out of wedlock and needs the money at the factory to support her. The other women look down on her and want her out of the factory, so Jean Valjean leaves it up to his foreman when he sees his old nemesis Javert inside the factory and needs to get out of sight. The foreman fires Fantine and kicks her out on the street. She has no choice but to sell her hair and then becomes a prostitute to support her daughter. Valjean comes upon her one night at the docks when there is again a ruckus that she is involved in. Javert also happens to be there and wants her arrested but Jean Valjean intercepts and when he learns he had something to do with her fate, brings her to the hospital and on her deathbed, he promises her he will take care of her child. But now that Javert knows who he is, he is after Valjean who has not followed through with his parole and is basically now hunted down again by Jalvert for the rest of the story.
Valjean finds Cosette who had been living with some terribly greedy innkeepers. Valjean must pay a lot of money to rescue her from this seedy couple. He takes care of her, and we see them again together when she is a young woman, obviously of a higher class than her mother or the innkeepers could ever have elevated her to. Valjean has taken her in as a daughter and treated her very well. As they walk through the streets of Paris, she sees and immediately falls in love with Marius, a young man caught up in the French Revolution movement. He is immediately smitten with her as well, much to the chagrin of a young woman who is in love with him. She sees how much he cares for Cosette, and brings him to her on the night before the Revolution. He sends word to her of where he is, and Valjean intercepts the message. His greatest fear since meeting and adopting Cosette is that she would meet someone and leave him all alone. He decides to meet this young man Marius so disguises himself and joins the ranks of the Revolution. He becomes acquainted with him and prays that God will save this young man for his Cosette. As the fighting gets started, and Marius is hurt, Valjean rescues him and drags him away from the scene. Marius survives while all the rest of his group is killed and laid side by side at the scene of the battle. He awakes to see a doctor ministering to him but does not know of his rescuer. Valjean tells him he must leave now that Cosette can be safe with Marius. He tells Marius his true identity and that Javert is after him. He doesn't want Cosette to know he is a wanted criminal thinking that it would disgrace her. He tells Marius to tell Cosette he must go on a long journey. He leaves without saying goodbye to Cosette. In the meantime, Javert commits suicide because he can't reconcile his need to see the law fulfilled and Valjean captured and punished when the man has truly shown himself to be good and kind. Cosette and Marius get married, and he promises to be with her always. At the wedding, he sees the innkeeper and his wife who have snuck into the reception. He goes after the innkeeper who says he met Valjean in the sewers and he was dragging a body with him and shows him the ring that was on the body. Marius recognizes it as his own and realizes that Valjean saved his life. He gets the innkeeper to tell him where Valjean is and he takes Cosette to see Valjean at the monastery, where he is close to death. He dies there surrounded by the loving Cosette and Marius.
This is the storyline, and the movie uses the same music. The story takes place over a seventeen year period. The movie flashes forward a few different times. All the songs are sung instead of words being spoken. It is very close to the Broadway version, except that there is more flexibility regarding scenery, and the actors are more actors than singers. That is what surprised me the most. For any of you who have seen the movie, "Mama Mia," you will understand what I mean. That movie was a musical, and although there was plenty of acting, there also had to be some songs. I was extremely disappointed and surprised that some of the main actors could not sing, so it took away from the movie for me. In this movie, the actors did not disappoint in their ability to act as well as to sing. To be honest, some were not of Broadway quality, but they still sounded very good.
Performances by Hugh Jackman, who played Jean Valjean, Anne Hathaway, who played Fantine, and Amanda Seyfried, who played Cosette were all very good. Hugh Jackman was originally unrecognizable as a shaven-headed Valjean. Apparently, he lost weight to play this role, and he did play the part of the harried prisoner quite well. Later in the movie, he gained weight to show that Valjean had become prosperous. It was obvious that Hugh Jackman could sing? Obviously not me, but his singing was clearly from the heart and was quite touching and believable. I also didn't know that Anne Hathaway could sing. She can, but I would not suggest she give up her day job of acting. Like Jackman, her singing was from her heart, and it was quite obvious the emotional pain and agony her character endured as she tried to do what was best for her daughter. Amanda Seyfried had a smaller part than the others, and as you might expect, her voice has a sweet quality to it. But her acting shone through and helped her carry the part well. Russell Crowe, playing Javert, the man we all loved to hate, was good as well, considering he is known only for his acting ability. His singing was not as good as his acting, but we got the point. A relative newcomer, Samantha Barks, plays Eponine, the grown daughter of the innkeepers who has fallen in love with Marius, who clearly has strong feelings for Cosette. Originally a singer, she was a finalist in the British Show, "I'd Do Anything" and went on to play the part of Eponine in the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables in London. She reprised her role in the movie and sang some very touching songs both alone, and in a trio with Marius and Cosette. Her singing ability is quite good, and her acting as well, although she is a seasoned actress in this particular part of Eponine. To add a bit of comedy to the movie, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, played the innkeepers, the Thenardiers who were taking acre of Cosette. They obviously loved their own daughter much more than Cosette and treated her royally while poor Cosette was dressed in rags. While not starring roles, the two did work well together to portray a greedy couple who stealthily take whatever they can sneak away from their lodgers while plying them with alcohol. One number,"Master of the House," was quite fun to watch and throughout the song, their actions give a glimpse of their true collective character.
I enjoyed the movie more than I enjoyed the 25th anniversary showing on public television. It was easier to see these characters close up and personal on a movie screen, and the acting was quite good, as was the singing. And of course, the scenery was able to be much more creative. I noticed this in the very first scene where Valjean sings as he pulls in a ship with various other prisoners. The screen was filled with darkness from the clouds, sea water and the total desolation and despair of the prisoners. It appeared almost as though the observers were in the scene with them because the special effects were quite good. Also, the director was quite true to life, and in this period, most of the people that would have been characters would have had terrible teeth due to the situation, and they did in this movie. This was clearly evident on the big screen!
I highly recommend this movie to anyone who feels they would enjoy a Hollywood twist on a classic Broadway show. It would be best seen in a theater rather than renting it on DVD so that one can experience the amazing acting, scenery and special effects up close and personal.