Les Miserables

Going into the theater, I was unprepared for the three hour spectacle that would be Les Miserables. I’ve never read the novel, or seen the stage adaptation. Aslo, I know next to nothing about Fench history. As such, I was flying blindly into my first experience with Le Mis, forming opinions based soely on what was displayed on the movie theater’s screen. Truly colossal in scale, Les Mis takes us on an emotional journey through despair and suffering, with sunning musical numbers every step of the way.

The production crew definitely spared no expense when recreating the setting of revolutionary France. The costuming is fantastic, and helps to flesh out the characters. Scenes of France’s cityscapes and country side are breathtaking, but most of the film is spent in the crowded and dingy streets. In the few scenes where the sun is visible, the lighting is actually a bit overwhelming, giving a sense of rare beauty to the scene.
The setting is fully engrossing, without a single detail being overlooked.

The film’s 3 hour run time can be a bit trying on your patience, especially with the long, often twisting plot. At times, it speeds by, while it crawls at other moments. With an overall plot arch which spans several decades, focusing on the convict Jean Valjean and his quest for redemption, we are also shown numerous sub-plots along the way. Each of these plots has the theme of human suffering at its heart. Some of these are actually quite endearing, while others simply drag on longer than I can tolerate.

Being a musical, the plot is driven solely through musical numbers…50 in all! Some serve to drive the plot rather than impress, but there are plenty of showstoppers to be heard. The decision to have the cast sing live rather than lip sync to pre-recorded tracks was an excellent decision, giving us performances that are as raw and unpolished as the story itself. As the camera zooms in on the character’s faces during their more intimate numbers, we get a sense of empathy for them that is rarely established in cinema. We can feel and hear each breath they take, seeing the emotions clearly written on their face.

This strategy is used in several of the films more showstopping numbers. Eponine laments over her unrequited love in On My Own, we discover Javert’s resolve in Stars, and Valjean questions the meaning of his own life in Valjean’s Soliliquy. However, the stand out moment of the show is Hatheway’s Fantine, and her incredible performance of I Dreamed a Dream. Her voice shines with both soaring clarity, and emotional strain in a moment that is sure to be remembered as one of the greatest in cinematic history.

It okay, Anne…that’s going to be a lovely pixie cut in time for the
awards shows!

But there are many other praise worthy numbers. Master of the House is one of the shows only joyous moments, injecting some much needed humor into an otherwise depressing film. Red and Black is rousing, even if it boarders on being overly bombastic. Look Down, which opens the play, is reprized several times, adding a dramatic sense of foreboding to the play. Finally, the closing number of Can You Hear the People Sing is uplifting and inspiring in a patriotic fashion that will have you waving the French flag as you march out of the theater.

Of course, these songs are only as good as the cast that delivers them. Hugh Jackman and Russel Crowe are pilot and co-pilot on this ship, and each perform brilliantly, despite their lack of musical backgrounds. Jackman makes his character seem both heroic and pitiful at the same time, while Crowe plays a villain that is sinister, yet not entirely unlikable.

Samantha Barks…future star!

The rest of the cast is just as competent. Among the list of all star names, there is room for one breakout newcomer  That star is surely to be Samantha Barks, who’s rich voice and charming presence make Eponine one of the standout characters.  Helena Bohnam Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are marvelous as the humorously shady Thenardiers. Aaron Tveit shines as the leader of the rebels with his powerful voice and charisma. However, once again, it is Anne Hathaway’s Fantine that steals the show…despite only being visible for a quarter of the overall film.

My only qualms about the cast are those chosen to play the young lovers, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). They are easily the shows weakest characters, living comfortably while moping about how they can’t be together while everyone else is…you know…dying in poverty. Seyfried’s thin voice often boarders on shrill, while Redmayne’s powerful voice verges on nasal. It made two otherwise unbearable characters slightly more annoying.

Yeah, people we love are dying, but this wedding
isn’t going to plan itself!

Ultimately, its easy to see why Les Miserables is considered one of the greatest musicals of all time, and this adaptation is truly mesmerizing. The cast delivers a strong performance, and the musical numbers are memorable and endearing; Hatheway’s performance being especially praise worthy. While the film’s run time may be a bit much, the plot a bit tangled and overly depressing, you can’t deny that the overall presentation is a fantastic experience in musical cinema.

Final Score: 4/5


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