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Caleb Masters

Les Miserables Delivers Emotionally Moving Experience

Jan 03, 2013


Victor Hugo's classic story of Jean Valjean seeking redemption while being pursued by the self-righteous 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 (“The King’s Speech”) 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 Misérables” 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 leads to 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 (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 down. 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 those with the coldest of hearts to their knees as she sings the song in a way that is most definitely going to put her in the running 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-worthy 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 Russell 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 Misérables 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.

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