Powerful, sad, and tragically beautiful are three words to sum up the experience of watching “Les Misérables.”
Ever since “Chicago,” most musicals have not quite reached the epic fanfare of such a daring and wonderfully executed film. There was always something missing, but “Les Misérables” fills that void. Despite its miniscule imperfections, “Les Misérables” is a grand and generally swift moving piece of eloquence.
The story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as he leaves prison after nineteen years. Convicted because he stole a piece of bread to help feed his dying nephew, he has a hard time rejoining the world and finding a job because his captor, Javert (Russell Crowe), has labeled him a danger to everyone for his aforementioned crime.
Valjean finds respite in a church and a priest who gives him a chance. Valjean escapes probation and eight years later, he is a mayor, wealthy, and always willing to help others who are less fortunate. Enter Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is fired from her job and, desperate for money, sells her hair and body in order to continue paying two innkeepers caring for her child. And so the thread unravels and the story really begins.
Valjean’s story intertwines with several others and this is what’s amazing about the tale. While several people weave in and out of the film, the story’s focus always reverts back to Valjean, Javert, and their tangled prisoner-captor relationship.
Every piece of music propels the story forward and ninety five percent of the story is told in song. Not only is each song beautiful, they are all sung with passion and you can see the actors put in every effort to bring all they’ve got to the music. By the end of the movie, you’ll walk out humming the melody to the final song. Also, what makes it even more incredible is the fact that instead of using prerecorded playback of the song, each actor had an earpiece where they could hear the music, but they would sing the songs live within the scene. It was a great directorial choice and every actor’s voice really shines because of this.
Hugh Jackman. What is there to say about Hugh Jackman? The man can do it all. Not only is he a wonderful actor, but his singing voice combined with the brokenness and sadness he brings to his character really takes him to an entirely different level. There are moments when only his expression speaks to the audience and in those expressions lie something that can never be given justice to with speaking lines alone.
Russell Crowe is a force to be reckoned with. He brings to life a character that is the law and shows no remorse for what he puts his prisoners through. Crowe’s Javert is strict and unyielding in his opinions and actions until the very end. The sour and steel-like expressions are enough in proving that Crowe puts his best foot forward when breathing life into a character.
Anne Hathaway embodies the helplessness, desperation and the complete physical appearance of Fantine. Anyone who believes Hathaway isn’t a great actress need only watch her performance during “I Dreamed a Dream,” and will rethink their former observation.
Amanda Seyfried really shines as Fantine’s daughter, Cosette. She is a victim to her surroundings and seems to see everything in wide-eyed wonder which brings innocence to her character and her reactions.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are an entertaining treat and are the comedic relief in a movie filled with a constant sadness. Innkeepers and thieves, they really play up the uncaring quality their characters possess.
The cast list is long, but every remaining actor who hasn’t been mentioned individually did a fantastic job of bringing life, love, and loss to their scenes and characters.
The movie did run long and there are moments when you think the movie is over, only to have a new scene unfold. One thing which was particularly bothering was the little boy on the rebels’ side. His accent is so thick that it is hard to understand him at times. Also, it is slightly off-putting because the scenery is set in France and when the boy speaks, thick, heavy accent and all, it takes away from the setting. Of course, everyone in the movie isn’t French, but the other accents aren’t heavy in a way where it strips the film of its important French Revolution setting.
In the end, these are slight nitpicks that don’t hinder the film as a whole. The movie’s style and direction is one to be applauded. The ensemble cast works very well together and every scene unfolds to add richness to the story and characters. Each song and performance speaks volumes and if you’re a weeper, you may want to watch with some tissues on hand. Especially during one of the best performances during the song “On My Own.” Samantha Barks does that song so much justice and it’s truly a breathtaking and deeply saddening scene.
If there was an Oscar for best heartbreaking and moving film, “Les Misérables” would most definitely win.