Version: 2012; starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne
Genre: drama, musical
Plot Summary: In the times between post-Revolutionary France and the Paris Rebellion of 1832, an inconsequential criminal -Prisoner 24601- is set free from penal servitude. Can a thief receive grace and have another chance in life? Some would think not, particularly a strict, tow-the-line, “black & white” law enforcement officer like Inspector Javert. But others, –like the trusting little girl Cosette and the idealistic activist Marius,– choose to open their hearts to the man remade into the new Jean Valjean.
My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel. Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.
Yeah, I’m a little late to the party on this one, but a good story is a good story in a book or on film no matter when one happens to experience it. I’ve never read the book (somehow never could convince myself to begin a 2,783 page opus [see recent post]), but I have seen the earlier 1998 version with Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean. I’m not sure I enjoyed that one. But I’ve also listened to the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s excellent audio production of the story and highly recommend that.
Les Miserables is a classic tale that contains so many human elements that speak deeply to us—love, hatred, forgiveness, compassion, revenge. That’s why it’s a classic. The drama, the pathos, emotion pull us in and won’t let us go. I found myself being deeply engrossed in this newest film version of Victor Hugo’s epic story. Believe it or not, I’d never seen or listened to the musical, although a few songs sounded familiar because of how they’ve infiltrated our pop culture (I Dreamed a Dream, Bring Him Home). At first I wasn’t so sure this story could be presented seriously as a musical, but I was proved wrong in one of the earliest scenes (when Jean receives the gift of forgiveness from the priest). And by the end of the movie, I was blubbering away into a soggy Kleenex.
I had avoided watching it when it first came out because of watching the trailer and hearing others’ reviews. I’d heard that so and so shouldn’t have been cast in this role because somebody else would have done so much better… Another person was snubbed for not being cast… This actress completely ‘ruined’ the movie… That person couldn’t sing… etc. etc. etc. I’d heard the film was too ‘gritty’, too ‘gorey’, too ‘indecent’. I watched the trailer and saw too much skin.
I’m not a musical aficionado. Maybe so and so could have sang the part better. All I know is Fantine sang as though her life was at the bottom of a sludge pit and Valjean sang through weary tears. Cosette sang like a bird in love, and Marius like he’d found the treasure of his life. If I could be so thoroughly convinced this story was real, I think somebody was doing their job supremely well. Probably the only one who didn’t have me convinced of his role was Russell Crowe as Javert. He felt uncomfortable and limited in the part.
Gritty? Yes. Gorey? It was a reflection of the time and era in which real people lived. Not all of humanity has lived in pristine Downton Abbey. Indecent? Yes. Humanity is messed up. But we live in a place where true love shines like a jewel amidst the dirt and grime of a perverted world.
Yet, there are some indecencies I would prefer not to expose myself to, and there were some content issues I’d warn about. I have better things to do than count swear words and describe raunchy scenes, so you can read a more detailed review here if you are in need of one. But I will say that there were at least two places I wanted to be careful about: 1) Fantine gradually falls deeper and deeper into the backalley ways of the underworld, not out of any desire on her part but out of pure desperation. As she sings her song, she is led into a dark room where one gets the idea of what will happen next without having to see it. I didn’t watch, but continued to listen to her heart-rending song. I wouldn’t fast forward through it if it can be helped because the music is some of the best of the musical and it’s well acted. 2) The Thenardiers are the picture of the world taking delight in degradation. The rowdy song that takes place in their inn, where they celebrate the pleasures of sin is one that can be skipped (IMO). It is definitely NOT a family scene! I got half way through and decided I was too sick to watch the rest and clicked through to the next scene.
Only one thing I wish could have been improved upon and that is I would have liked to have seen more of the beginning developing relationship between Jean Valjean and the little girl Cosette. This is a weakness in the original story itself I think, and that is that Cosette’s character is too trusting. This could have been strengthened in the movie, and their getting to know one another was rather missing. It would have helped to cement my emotional attachment further.
But for all of that, I wish I had not waited so long to watch this wonderful story illustrated with so much emotion, music, color and drama. The sets and the details blew my mind. I don’t often like to rewatch movies, but this is one I will want to have in my collection to go back to every so often. I truly thought it was a good piece of art, though I know there are enough who debate me there.
What are your thoughts on this film version of Les Miserables? I’d like to know what you think!