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Mar 30, 2013

Review: Les Miserables (2012)

           Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, George Blagden, Killian Donnelly, Fra Fee, Alistair Brammer, Gabriel Vick, Iwan Lewis and Stuart Neal.


                   Tom Hooper.


                 Les Miserables is a musical drama based on the highly popular and beloved musical by Alain Boubil and Claude-Michel Schonberg that itself is based on the 1862 French novel by Victor Hugo. This big production directed in an unusual way and featuring an enormous cast who had to sing and not deliver the dialogues all the way through, i think Les Miserables is a fantastic achievement. Though it can be an enduring process for some who aren't really comfortable with this kind of approach and can be a complete dud to those who aren't into very inspiring and powerful emotions in a movie. But for me, this was an incredible experience even if it was an imperfect one. Les Miserables is directed by Tom Hooper, the Oscar winning director of The King's Speech. The movie itself kind of remains an overbearing experience even if the musical part of it reaches an unbelievable height. It tells stories of these many characters tied together in a sense before the upheaval of the French Revolution in the 19th century France. The main character of the movie is Jean Valjean (Jackman) who was imprisoned for many years over a very small crime and is released on parole, he then goes on to become mayor of a small town. Valjean is trying to avoid being captured again by a police officer Javert (Crowe), who is desperately searching for him. There he crosses paths with Fantine (Hathaway) who is a struggling factory worker and mother of an illegitimate child Cosette. She turns towards prostitution to make ends meet, Jean Valjean promises to take care of her daughter who is with the Thenardiers (Carter and Cohen). Les Miserables begins with a breathtaking shot of the port in France where the prisoners are working. That shot is when you realize the epicness and scope of this movie and what is about to come. Its not merely a musical where people are singing non-stop till they die but Hooper is offering you to experience what you wont have otherwise by taking something from theater and converting it into a movie with panoramic shots, close-ups of characters and big production values to make you feel much closer to the physical and emotional aspects of the source material.

                 Les Miserables has literally miserable characters, they struggle to survive against all the odds and difficulties they are facing in their lives that are mostly brought upon them by the society and the time they are living in. Take Valjean for example who was imprisoned just because he stole a piece of bread from someone. He later while being on parole tries to steal some valuable silver from a bishop's house but is caught. He isn't a bad person per say but he sees no other way than to steal in order to survive. We see later on how Valjean's life is changed after that encounter when the bishop lies about him stealing to protect him. Touched by that, he decides to run away and live an honest life away from his past and from the very scratch. Hugh Jackman in a performance of a lifetime, his turn as Jean Valjean will definitely be the best performance of his career. This is the most powerful and moving performance he has given so far. He makes an impact on you from the very first moment as we are introduced with his character. Jackman won a Tony for his performance in the play "The Boy from Oz" and we have seen him singing at the Oscars as well, i don't think there was another actor even remotely preferable to play this part with such passion and energy. His voice has the kind of depth and emotions as well as powerful and soaring quality that makes the moments where he sings, one of the highlights of the movie. Talking about Fantine, the most pitiable,struggling and heartbreaking character of this movie played with intensity by Anne Hathaway. Fantine is a struggling woman who works at a factory owned by Valjean to earn money. She has an illegitimate daughter who she sends a fair amount from what she earns, when this truth comes out, she is kicked out from her work. Finding no other way, she turns to prostitution even if she doesn't really want to do it but she has to. In what is the most powerful, memorable and most amazing movie moment from last year, Anne Hathaway sings her heart out and bares it all out during the famous song of the musical, "I Dreamed a Dream". That scene is done in one take with camera positioned at capturing Hathaway's facial expressions without any cuts. In those two or three minutes, she gives one of the best performances of the year. That is not to say that she doesn't perform at all in her other scenes but she has limited screen time and she tries to give her best in those few other moments as well but here, she does the impossible. This was the reason why Hathaway from the very first moment started winning all the supporting actress awards and then went on to win an Oscar as well. The higher notes that she sings with such powerful emotional intensity is staggering. Fantine's entire life and her journey is summed up when she sings "I had a dream my life would be..." "So different from this hell i am living, so different now from what it seemed..." "Oh my life has killed the dream i dreamed". Quite an emotional moment that is going to bring you down into tears and if you aren't even slightest bit moved by it, then i don't know if you have a heart at all.

                 Russell Crowe as Javert was quite disappointing because he doesn't provides us with a multi dimensional character whose actions are believable as Crowe goes for quite the cartoonish approach towards this villain of the movie. Wasn't impressed by his performance neither his singing, not a good choice for the role. And you know who else least impressed me as singers? Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. Yes they provides us with the only funny and most hilarious moment in this movie and i liked their portrayals of these silly characters. Helena Bonham Carter seems to be just uttering the words carelessly, i didn't noticed that in her previous musical but here it bothered me. Samantha Barks who i suppose did some stage performances before gave a wonderful performance as Eponine. Her turn in the movie is quite angelic and the way she shows her realization about life, love, hope and lose is outstanding. She gets the self-loathing part right. Barks also had to sing the song "On My Own" which she sang wonderfully, one of my favorites from the musical. Eddie Redmayne who plays Marius, the guy who falls for Cosette and is a good friend to Eponine but doesn't realizes that she loves him too. Redmayne gave a very good performance, a sensitive portrayal and gave us one of the most soulful and utterly emotional rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables". Most of the movie in the second half focuses on this love triangle as well as the brewing revolution and the teenagers to sum up. I thought most of these actors did a really nice job. Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean has the most strong showing throughout the movie but the movie goes on to become mainly about young people fighting for their lives and for their country. Even though the love story part between Cosette and Marius becomes too much at times, Eponine is there to put in some reality check throughout. Its not that i thought the love story came off unbelievable, well it kind of did but in a movie where everyone is just plain miserable, they made that part come off as rather feel good aspect of it and too much sometimes. It takes seconds for them to fall in love which i find ridiculous. Plus i never liked Amanda Seyfried in any movie and even her voice. There is another actor who did a really fine job, Aaron Tveit who i think should be in more movies because he looks good and has a nice presence overall. I really loved his voice during the song "Red and Black". His character Enjolras plays the leader of these inspiring and spirited young boys who wants a change.

                  Les Miserables most of the times suffers from its own ambition and overwhelming passion. Its quite an uneven ride and a pretty long one that will exhaust you somehow. There are moments when the movie gets quite moving and deep, during Valjean's parts. Then there is the rawness that comes from Anne Hathaway. There are some funny scenes, some beautiful moments, some really silly ones and then there is war. I thought those scenes were done quite well and with intensity even if they were happening at a very small scale between few young people and lots of armed officers. After everything that happens throughout the movie, the ending comes as rather uplifting and soaring during the song "Do You Hear the People Sing" where the entire cast sings that song together in what looks like a heaven where their souls are singing this song. Its that particular scene when you realize that their individual stories even if some of them didn't really worked, its the passion with which they worked for a future they wanted and their undying physical and internal strength that made this journey quite an amazing experience for us to see and explore. Whether you have a heart that likes to be touched by something or not, you can;t really deny the powerful impact this story on the whole has. Its a big production with superb eye to the details. The production design is epic and marvelous. The sound, costumes, makeup everything is done on a big level. The movie features excellent sound design, of course they all had to sing live in order to make things sound and feel more realistic and emotional. That actually was a very good decision, a big gamble for sure but it worked beautifully in the movie. The lip-syncing of a song during some really powerful and emotional sequence comes quite weird when the passion you see in the performance doesn't necessarily blends in with the song you are hearing but in this movie, they made sure that never happens. Its one of the reason why songs like "Bring Him Home" and the added song "Suddenly" worked in the context of the movie even if they aren't necessarily good songs or that they sound like that if you listen to them outside of the movie.

                  To sum up my take on this movie, i would like to say that this is an imperfect movie for sure but to hell with its imperfections, its not a terrible movie in the end. I think its one of the best movie musicals in decades, that is if you ignore the rest of the movie and just focus on the musical aspect of it of course. Les Miserables is a movie about love, passion, forgiveness, freedom and emotions. It really tries to hold up with its humongous narration that moves quite a lot between politics, human emotions, music, art and social values and ends up with what mostly is a not so perfect version of most of those things but still this vibrant and passionate extravagant of a movie is worth visiting once in your lifetime.

Grade: B+