Cinema Review – Les Misérables
Les Misérables is a stunning film that while at times it lacks a little EPIC scale, it more than makes up for that in heartfelt emotions.
Let me get one thing straight right now – I dislike Musicals. There is something about them that completely turns me off. I have managed to avoid them mostly for nearly 40 years now, with the exception of Mary Poppins, Grease and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. So when I got the opportunity to see Les Misérables at a preview screening, I was dubious to say the least. Strangely though, within 5 mins of the epic opening I was hooked and fully invested. By the climax of the 2 hour and 47 mins I was an emotional mess with streams of tears rolling down my cheeks. What has happened to me???
After spending 19 years in prison for the measly crime of stealing some bread Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, is finally given parole. Even after this extreme sentence the officer in charge bears no sympathy and still considers the prisoner a heathen. Officer Javert, played by Russell Crowe, releases him but labels him a danger to society. Considering the crime was only stealing bread to feed his starving family, I already hated Javert with a passion.
While trying to make his way in the world Valjean is showed cruelty by everyone he meets, as the fear this ex-con, he ends up stealing from the one person that showed him kindness, but this priests allows him freedom and lets him keep some pricey artifacts if he promises to use them to change his life.
Years later and Valjean is no Monsieur Madeline, a prosperous factory owner and also Mayor of Montreal-sur-Mer. He himself shows kindness to one of his factory workers, Fantine played by Anne Hathaway, when he realizes she was fired from his employ with no knowledge himself. He discovers her just as she is to be arrested for assaulting a ‘client’ while trying to make some cash as a prostitute. She beg him to take pity on her daughter whom she sends all of her money to. At the time her daughter is locked away with an evil inn keeper and his wife, played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter.
This lengthy description only covers the first act of Les Misérables. The story is a lengthy and sprawling tale of brotherhood, revenge and love. And for those of you who do not know, it is a musical in the truest sense of the word. All of the dialogue is sung, and there is a constant swelling score in the background. Every emotion, decision and argument is sung, which if I am honest I was worried about. But by the end of the first act I was so invested I didn’t really notice, apart from the amusing talks between Crowe and Jackman, which sounded weird…
Director Tom Hooper certainly seemed to have a vision for how he wanted to bring this stage show to the silver screen, opting for super close-ups, and interesting angles. For some die-hard fans it may not work, but for the uneducated (me for instance), it brings you right up on stage and amongst the action. The standout scene was that of Fantine (Hathaway) singing her big solo song “I dreamed a dream”. The sheer emotion and raw energy displayed is easily one of the most heart wrenching scenes I have seen since the finale of Blue Valentine, or the Mother and Son scene in 50/50. If Hathaway walks away without an Oscar for her role in Les Mis then she would have been totally robbed. The only problem with this scene is that it is very early in the film, and it leaves a very large shoes to fill for the rest of the film.
Another blessing and an element that adds to the raw emotion of the film is Hooper’s decision to record the cast singing LIVE (poor sound man) rather than lip syncing them in a studio after. OK, so it shows up some of the casts mediocre singing voices but it adds an element of realism to the feelings they are going through.
Les Misérables is a stunning film that while at times it lacks a little EPIC scale, it more than makes up for that in heartfelt emotions. Hathaway is every bit as good as you have heard and shows that she is most definitely an alien – I mean no one should be that pretty, be that good an actress and be able to sing pitch perfect – It is not human.
Film of the year (so far).