Movie: LES MISERABLES
Rating: PG-13, suggestive and sexual material, violence
and thematic elements
Jeanne: One of the most timeless stories of all --- Victor Hugo's stirring 150-year-old tale of a hunted man who cares for a dead prostitute's young daughter amidst the revolutionaries of 1832 Paris. Truly a story of beauty, courage, selflessness and heroism, "Les Misérables", David's all-time favorite musical, is one of the best films of 2012.
Lest you forget or were not aware, "Les Misérables" is almost completely through-sung, which means there is virtually no spoken dialogue. And to make matters worse for the enormously talented cast, it was filmed with the actors singing it live --- no lip-synching, then going back to a studio to record the singing.
It's an extremely risky proposition, but Academy Award-winning director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech", 2010) was very adamant that the music and singing should be in the moment to make the most of the beautiful score and lyrics originally composed by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil, then adapted for the English language stage production which premiered in London in 1985.
Anyone who isn't blown away by this stellar cast, including Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, Eddie Redmayne as Marius, and Samantha Barks as Eponine, is simply not in touch with their inner emotions. These actors perform their hearts out and it is a beautiful experience.
There has been some snarky criticism of Crowe by David and others of his inability to hit some of the higher notes. My take on this is that Javert, the nasty SOB that he is, shouldn't have a "perfect" voice. He's mean and unforgiving, thus his voice should sound the same --- and it does!
This is an emotional story --- period. If you don't enjoy watching actors emitting strong feelings, then this isn't the movie for you. But, if you are a fan of the musical stage version, I cannot imagine that this is not the ticket for you.
David: Director Tom Hooper knows how to tug at one's heartstrings. He did it with "The King's Speech" a couple of years ago and walked away with an Academy Award for Best Picture. His latest effort, a brilliant adaptation of the long-running stage musical "Les Misérables", based on the novel by Victor Hugo, raises the goose bumps like no other theatrical presentation of its kind, film or stage.
If that seems a bit pretentious or exaggerated, well --- I'm a bit prejudiced in that "Les Mis", for me, is the single most emotional and stirring piece of art/entertainment of all time. I've seen the live version three times --- albeit fewer than a lot of Les Mis
fanatics --- including a high school production that was equal to any. The past movie offerings have been decent dramatic renderings of the stage musical, but this film, with practically zero dialogue, blew me away.
Even if you're not a fan of musicals, it's hard to conceive how anyone could not get involved with the fabulous storylines going on simultaneously. At the center of it all is the plight of the heroic Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), escaping the clutches of the obsessive, driven police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), and establishing a new name and reputation for himself.
Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is the single mother of Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) who turns to prostitution to pay for her daughter's medicine. In very poor health, she runs into Valjean, now city mayor and company owner, who pledges to care for Cosette as his own. Later in the film, Cosette encounters Marius (Eddie Redmayne, "My Week With Marilyn") and the two fall in love instantly.
Meanwhile, Eponine (Samantha Barks), who may be the most heart-rending character of all, is a waif who lived with Cosette when they were children, under the gluttonous tutelage of Eponine's real parents, the unscrupulous innkeepers, the Thenardiers, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Eponine, as a young woman, professes her desperate love for Marius, to no avail.
All of this hysteria is played against the backdrop of a bloody revolution staged by French students, inspired by the death of their beloved General LaMarque, the primary symbol of the rights of the poor and the downtrodden in19th century France. Of course, none of this would be quite as dramatic without the glorious music, originally conceived by Claude-Michel Schönberg, and the moving lyrics by Alain Boublil, assisted by 87-year-old Herbert Krtezmer, who also worked with Hooper on this film version.
While I loved this movie and believe it should be a serious contender for a number of Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Actor for Jackman, Best Supporting Actress for Hathaway) it isn't perfect. For one, I have reservations about Crowe as Javert. His voice is not the typically strong baritone from the stage plays, and he is not nearly menacing enough for what I perceive to be a callous and relentless Javert. However, Crowe is such a good actor that he manages to prevail in his role.
Jackman, while in excellent voice here, is not quite the stage tenor that has been so prevalent on stage, a la Colm Wilkinson, for example, the original Valjean. (Wilkinson has a small part in the beginning of the film as the kindly bishop who forgives Valjean for stealing his silver). But like Crowe, Jackman's acting supercedes everything else.
I also am not wild about the casting of Sacha Baron Cohen as the "Master of the House", Monsieur Thenardier. As funny as he has been as Borat, Baron Cohen is more of a caricature in this role, and I would have preferred an anonymous actor to play it.
Hathaway and Barks are simply marvelous. Barks, only 22, played Eponine on stage recently, and could challenge Hathaway for Supporting Actress honors. Redmayne is surprisingly in strong voice as Marius --- who knew --- and he is a fine actor. I found Seyfried adequate, but not exceptional as Cosette.
"Les Misérables" grabs you from the incredible opening number --- with scores of prisoners in chains tugging on enormous ropes tied to a massive ship. "Les Mis" devotees well know this scene, featuring "Look Down" and the first time Valjean's prison ID, 24601. is mentioned. It's non-stop singing and high drama from there. Whether you're already a fan, or new to this world-wide phenomenon, Tom Hooper's "Les Misérables" is a cinematic feast.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!