Les Miserables - A Review of Les Mis the Movie
To love another person is to see the face of God
Les Miserables, the 2012 release, is a musical drama based on the long playing broadway musical of the same name, which in turn was based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo. If you are put off by actors singing their parts rather than speaking them, don't be, or at least suspend judgment until you have seen this movie. Once you see it you realize that the emotional impact of the story requires something more than just words. Based on the accolades the film has received within a month of its release, I'm not going out on a limb to say that Les Miserables is a classic. The screenplay, direction, casting and the acting make this movie a film for the ages.
The Bishop shows his mercy
The tragedy of Fantine
The plot of Les Miserables is simple but emotionally profound. Sin, redemption, love and forgiveness. It's all there. The movie opens with the hero Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman toiling as a prisoner. He has been in jail for 19 years. We later learn that his offense was stealing a piece of bread for a nephew who was starving. At the end of the day he is handed parole papers by his prison guard Javert, played by Russell Crowe.
On the edge of starvation, Jean Valjean tries to find work, but his prison background makes for a poor resume.
He is offered food and shelter by a bishop, played by Colm Wilkinson, who portrayed Jean Valjean on the stage in 1985. Still desperate, and hardened by his years in prison, he steals a bagful of silver and stalks off into the night, only to be arrested and brought to the bishop in shackles. The bishop tells the gendarmes that the silver was a gift to Valjean, and he hands him two more silver candlesticks saying that he had apparently forgotten them. This is a key dramatic part of the film. The bishop's generosity transforms Jean Valjean into a repentant soul who swears to do right. He breaks his parole and takes on a new identity. Upon discovering that Jean Valjean has broken parole, his former jailer Javert swears to find him and bring him to justice.
Jean Valjean eventually becomes a prosperous factory owner and mayor of his city. One of his employees, Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway, is found to be secreting money to her illegitimate daughter and is dismissed by the factory manager, unbeknownst to Jean Valjean. Desperate to support her daughter, Fantine turns to prostitution. After she assaults an abusive man she is arrested by none other than Javert, who is now moving up the law enforcement ranks. She's saved and taken to a hospital by Jean Valjean, but not before Javert recognizes him as someone from his past.
Valjean learns that a man has been arrested and is about to be incarcerated on the belief that the man is the fugitive Jean Valjean. With his new found humanity, Valjean simply cannot abide an innocent man's incarceration and confesses his identity before he goes to the hospital to see Fantine, who is dying. He swears to her that he will take care of her daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Adams).
Valjean finds little Cosette in the custody of a perfectly slimy couple of innkeeper con artists known as the Thenardiers, played to perfection by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonhom Carter. The scenes with the Thenardiers are the only comic relief in the movie. Jean Valjean ransoms Cosette and takes her with him as his new daughter.
The movie then absorbs itself into the beginnings of the revolutionary fervor that swept France at the time. The ever so diligent inspector Javert masks himself as a revolutionary, only to be discovered as a Quisling. He is handed over to Jean Valjean who, presumably, will mete out his justice. I shall stop there. If you are not familiar with the story or have not seen the play or movie I shall not rob you of this scene. Another dramatic scene has Jean Valjean carrying a wounded and unconscious rebel to safety. The rebel would later to marry Cosette, something she and her husband only learn toward the end.
It's exhausting to watch Les Misearables because the actors are singing at you in full throat, often in close ups. Tom Hooper, the director, opted for the actors to sing their parts live rather than lip synching. The effect is powerful. Although Russell Crowe performs with his own rock band, his voice cannot be described as theater-ready. Nonetheless Crowe gives it his best and the result is good. Hugh Jackman could perform a musical part in any play.
The closing scenes of the movie involve the fate of Jean Valjean, Javert, Cosette and her new husband. Bring tissues, and be prepared to use them.
Instant classic sounds like a cliché, and perhaps it is. But Les Miserables is just that, a classic. I'm confident that years from now anyone reading this will agree.
Copyright © 2013 by Russell F. Moran