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Review: Les Miserables
Les Miserables is a very popular musical of the same name by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg which in turn is based off of the French novel written in 1862 by Victor Hugo. It is a classical story filled with the very core emotions of humanity such as love, compassion, hate and forgiveness. It even takes a hard look at the social injustice of the time period in France. All in all, it is a very difficult film and even play to digest. There is so much packed into it, so many different themes that it can be very difficult to portray in the cinematic medium. Thankfully, this version is not in the hands of a lesser director. Tom Hooper does a terrific job of giving just enough attention to every character (albeit Eponine falls a little short) allowing their stories to drive home in a very dramatic manner. It is no shock that this film is up for all kinds of awards when you take into consideration the powerful performances delivered by the entire cast but most notably Anne Hathaway. It is rather amazing to see the entire cast just about nail all of their individual performances and play to them with such power and grace.
The plot begins with our hero of the story, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), as we see him in prison under the ever watchful eye of Javert (Russell Crowe). He is imprisoned due to stealing a loaf of bread and failed attempts of escaping the prison for this he has been in jail for nineteen years. Valjean is freed from his shackles and struggles to find anyone welcoming him into the new world with open arms. He finds refuge inside a church but considering the way he had to survive in prison, his ways of being a criminal come out. However, it gets him in more trouble that would likely send him back to prison but the Bishop shows him compassion. Compassion that he does not exactly deserve, but in order for him to grow and become a better person, he did deserve that act of compassion. This simple act then acts as the start of the change in Valjean. He skips out of his parole and creates a new life for himself under a new identity. Fast forward eight years later and Valjean is now a factory owner and the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Javert learns of Valjean skipping on his parole and vows to bring him in to face the law.
Inside the factory that Valjean owns is young Fantine (Anne Hathaway). She is frequently belittled by the other female workers and even more frequently sexually harassed by Valjean's foreman. The workers heckle her when it is found out that Fantine is sending money to her illegitimate daughter Cosette. This is frowned upon and she is sent on her way out of the factory. From here she is sent on a brutal journey that leads her to being a prostitute in order to continue paying for Cosette. With her body beaten and thrown around like a rag doll it weighs heavily on her spirit. She eventually lashes out on a man that catches the attention of Javert. Javert decides to jail her, but Valjean recognizes her and sees that his selfishness cost Fantine to be forced into her present situation. He does what he can to help Fantine and takes her to a hospital and furthermore, becomes a father to her Cosette. It is a simple gesture of kindness, that in Fantine's world, has never come around. She has constantly seen men throw her around and use her for her looks, but this man had seen her as a person and shown her compassion instead of giving into his lustful desires.
Fast forward another nine years and we find that things have escalated a little more. A gang of young men have grown tired of seeing the hatred that their people have endured over the years and begin to have thoughts of a revolution lead by Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) and Enjolras (Aaron Tveit). Marius however catches a glimpse of a grown up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and instantly falls in love with her much to the displeasure of his friend Eponine (Samantha Barks). Marius explains to Eponine how he feels for Cosette, which all rings about too true to something you'd expect from a Romeo & Juliet story, and seeing how Eponine and Cosette grew up in the same household under the watch of the Thenardiers for a time, Eponine knew where Cosette could be found. The two have a moment together but shortly after Valjean and Cosette go on the run as they are thought to be found in their hiding from Javert. Valjean is also shown to be very secretive with Cosette as he does not want her to know about his unfortunate past, as well as her mother. The rebellion starts and is led by young Marius and Enjolras but it simply is a fight that needs to be fought. They knew deep in their hearts they would not come out as victors, but it was about standing up for what you believe in even against the worst of circumstances. Valjean even managed to show Javert how the law, which he so frequently hid behind, can be wrong and unjust.
It is a timeless story. It is a story that can be remade for decades and still be something amazing every time. However, Hooper's take on that tale is a fresh one. Shot for shot, this film was simply beautiful. The environments were breathtaking and very real but still maintained a very theatrical kind of feel. The decision on the part of Hooper to have the actors sing and act all at once is one that will really make this movie stand above previous versions of this story. The performances given be the actors are captivating, heartbreaking and above all else real. Anne Hathaway plays Fantine with such raw emotion and fragility that it is incredibly difficult to not get a little choked up when she delivers her ballad "I Dreamed a Dream." Hugh Jackman himself is no stranger to musicals as he had been on Broadway a few times in the past, but nonetheless, he is terrific in the role of Valjean. Seeing his transformation from a man filled with hate to a renewed man who fights for what is right is equally gripping. As for Russell Crowe, it amazes me that people think he is out of his element in this film. Yes, he does not have the big emotional ballads like Hathaway or Jackman but that is not his role. He plays the role of Javert who is a very cold and calculated man. His ballads and his powerful voice prove that and his performance is just as strong as the others. While I do not like the character of Marius, Eddie Redmayne does a terrific job in the role and really nails it. In the hands of a lesser actor the character can very much feel like a carbon cut out and very flat. However, that is not the case here. The film also does a terrific job in casting Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Innkeepers for some very much needed comic relief at the most crucial of moments.