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Les Miserables

2013-01-17 09:31
 
A soaring, stirring musical adaptation that is the very definition of epic.
Hugh Jackman Les Miserables
What's it about?

In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). The fateful decision changes their lives forever.

What we thought:

I doubt that Victor Hugo was aware of the enormous staying power of his novel but here, just over one hundred and fifty years later, we're sitting with another in a long line of  adaptations of his renowned classic.

Not having read the book, seen the stage production or any of the numerous other Les Misérables adaptations, I came into this latest version as a Les Mis virgin. With that in mind, let me say that one word that comes to mind is "stirring". Yes, this is a very stirring movie. From its early shot swooping from high above and into a crew of prisoners to its very many musical performances, I was certainly stirred.  

Hugo's tale is one of courage, dignity and perseverance in the face of insurmountable adversity. It takes place over the span of two decades and follows Jean Valjean, who is sent to prison for nine years for stealing a loaf of bread. After finishing his time, he escapes his parole, disappears and remakes himself as a successful businessman. But even after years have passed, the dogged policeman, Javert remains stubbornly determined to catch him. 

Tom Hooper's film is the stage musical transposed to film. For the uninitiated, this means that the bulk of the film's story is related via song, which can be a bit awkward for those more used to traditional film narrative (i.e., talking, then stuff happens). It's a good thing then that Hooper has cast such talented principles who put in performances compelling enough to draw us into the film and its story.  

Hugh Jackman is wonderful in the lead as the film's hero, Jean Valjean. Most popular for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men films, it's easy to forget that Jackman is a trained stage actor with an awesome singing voice, which he gets to show off here to powerful effect. Jackman's charismatic performance is matched by strong turns from virtually all the cast. Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen as the thieving Innkeepers , the Thenadiers, bring a welcome bit of humour and levity to things.

Samantha Barks does a great job reprising her stage role as Eponine, while Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne make for a sweet pair of lovebirds (Redmayne's voice is especially strong and soulful for someone so young and Seyfried can certainly add singing to her list of considerable talents). If anyone does come off a bit weak, it's Russell Crowe, whose performance might be intended to be reserved and dignified but just feels as if his heart's not entirely in it.

The real revelation though is Anne Hathaway as the tragic Fantine, a character whose sorry misfortune seems to know no bounds. Hathaway's role is relatively small in the grand scheme of things but what she does with it is nothing short of miraculous and of all the cast, it is her performance which is most likely to stay with audiences well after the credits have done rolling.

Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" is magnificent and is about as moving a display of raw emotion as you'll see all year. Also helping are production and costume design that really sells the grime and wretchedness of the downtrodden. There's something somewhat punkish about the dress here, particularly that of the band leading the revolution. 

It's a pity that the marvellous efforts of the cast and crew are somewhat undone by the directorial choices of director Hooper. I understand that choosing to go for lots of close-ups and using pacier editing might lend the film an intimacy and energy that a traditional approach might not. Still, I would've preferred going wider (the traditional for directors doing a musical), if only to better establish the characters in the colourful and varied world of the film.

Given that the story takes place against the backdrop of the French Revolution, making more effort to establish that context might have given the film added heft as well as lending it a more epic scale. As it is, the film needed to feel bigger than it eventually does.  

Regardless this is a film with colour and energy and it builds to a rousing finish. In an age where Hollywood panders to audiences with tacked-on novelties like 3D and meaningless CGI, it's  almost refreshing to watch a film that grabs at its audience with nothing more than a sincere show of feeling. This is a grand time at the movies and for those with a taste for it, well worth the time. 

Yes, "stirring" is a word that describes it quite nicely.

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(Comments may be edited or deleted at the Channel24 editors’ discretion)
Kevin Levy 1/18/2013 11:52 PM
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Just got home from watching the most spectacular, emotional and incredible movie ever – Les Miserables is truly a masterpiece and a must-see movie! All the actors are brilliant and holding fingers that they all win at the Oscars – the Golden Globe awards were 500% justified! It is a long movie and you do leave the movie house emotional, but it is truly a must see...please go and see it if you can!
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