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Les Misérables (2012)

| December 17, 2012 | 0 Comments

To even attempt a movie version of the musical Les Misérables is an act of insanityThere are few musical productions more beloved or more memorized, and so the end result is either going to be a success or a colossal failure.  Seeing the finished product, it can be confidently said that director Tom Hooper, brings together a full-blooded, oversized production that is anything but shy.  That’s not entirely a good thing.  What he has constructed is an elephantine vision of a musical that we know all too well.  He’s got the songs right, he’s got a zillion dollar cast and he’s managed to create a production design that it just as grimy and filth-covered as that restroom in Saw.  What he doesn’t have is any form of intimacy.  There are at least a dozen characters here, each of whom has a solo number that’s as joyful as a hanging.

The story, for the uninitiated, begins in 1815 on the day that Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is to be paroled after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread.  By law of the land, he is to be on parole for the rest of his natural life.  By law of the destiny, Valjean finds his place in the eyes of God after being shown kindness by a priest.  Frustrated with the tyranny of his bondage, Valjean tears up his parole notice and goes on the lam.  He knows that the stone-hearted Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) will never give up searching for him, but he doesn’t know that this defiant gesture will alter the destinies of both men.

Years later, we catch up with Valjean who has taken the assumed name Monsieur Madeleine and is running a factory that makes rosaries.  Working in the factory is the sad-eyed Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is working to feed her illegitimate daughter.  A mishap reveals her shame and she is thrown out in the street by the shop foreman.  A whim of destiny keeps Valjean just out of earshot of what has happened to the young woman, who is eventually forced into prostitution.

By an act of kindness, Valjean finds himself adopting Fantine’s daughter Cosette (played as a child by Isabelle Allen and as an adult by Amanda Seyfried).  This will be the pattern of Valjean’s life.  Once the priest shows him kindness, it opens a door in his heart and he finds that the kindness that he shows to others comes back to him when he needs it most.  The pattern of the story is centered on two separate figures, Valjean who sees kindness as a balance to the natural order, and Javert who is blinded by devotion to duty.  Their duality is seen appropriately against the backdrop of Paris’1832 June Rebellion in which angry citizens rise up against the French army.

Of course, all the elements of the story are told through music – non-stop music.  Even the speech is a form of talk-singing and Hooper was smart to cast well-known actors who can actually sing.  Jackman, of course, won a Tony Award winner for “The Boy from Oz” and imbues Valjean with a kind of good-heartedness that comes from his very soul.  Russell Crowe is less schooled but has fronted his own band since 1980.  Amanda Seyfried as Cosette has a bird-like lilt to her brief musical interludes.  Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide the much needed comic relief as the greedy Monsieur and Madame Thénardier.  Also, along the edges of the film, is an unforgettable performance by 22 year-old Samantha Barks who has been in the stage production.  She plays the sad-eyed Eponine, the Thénardier’s daughter who gets caught up in the rebellion.

They are all wonderful, but no one can outclass Anne Hathaway as the doomed Fantine who, with limited screentime, brings to light the disparity of being a poor woman in 19th century France.  Cast out in the street for the crime of having a child out of wedlock, she is forced to sell her hair before being forced to sell her body.  There, amid the squalid Hell that is the den of the hopeless and the wretched she emotes the power of Schönberg’s “I Dreamed a Dream”; of a life that now feeds her broken promises and poisoned dreams.  For six unbroken, unforgettable minutes, Tom Hooper’s camera holds steady on her withered face as she cries out for the once-golden promise of a life that has blown away in the dust.  Hathaway has always been a good actress but here she reveals a depth and a range that are beyond anything we ever expected.  It is nothing sort of a revelation.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2012) View IMDB Filed in: Musical