1/21/2013 6:00:00 AM Reel Watchers: Les Miserables
Linda Tucker Kingman Resident
Based upon a novel by Victor Hugo set during the French Revolution, the stage musical debuted in the 1980s and is the longest running musical in the world.
The storyline is tragic. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is convicted of theft and serves 19 years hard labor for stealing bread for a starving child. The policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) makes it clear as Valjean is paroled that he will be watched. Valjean struggles with his reputation and finally, after a priest welcomes him into his home and trusts him, he is inspired and decides to turn his life around.
Valjean becomes a well to do, respected businessman under an assumed name who is known for his kindnesses. He is touched by the tragic plight of a destitute mother, Fantine (played by a luminous Anne Hathaway), and helps her. The focused Javert, secure in his righteousness, doggedly pursues Valjean for breaking his parole.
On the run for years with his beautiful, sheltered ward, Cosette (Fantine's innocent orphaned daughter, played by Amanda Seyfried), the pair find themselves in Paris during the French Revolution and Valjean struggles with his ethical values, morality, and his former life as a thief. Themes include right vs. wrong, the sin of poverty, true love and character triumphing over adversity and tragedy, blind justice and many more.
There are several subplots throughout. I particularly enjoyed the greedy innkeepers, the Thenardiers, played with comedic verve by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen in the "Master of the House" sequence. They simper and smile at their guests while simultaneously robbing them blind, even as they sit on the toilet.
This musical is filmed with the performers singing live as they are acting, and there are many close-up shots of the actors emoting as they sing rather than cutting away to a montage or a dance. The controversial result of this is that the story is presented more intimately than the stage show, and the vocals aren't a perfect voice-over by uber-talented singers, but the actors actually singing their lines.
Amanda Seyfried has a pure soprano and oozes naive innocence. Hugh Jackman with his stage pedigree manages to marry his character with his singing seamlessly. Filthy, abused Anne Hathaway in extreme close up, singing about her tragic love affair and the death of her innocence in "I Dreamed a Dream," strikes the perfect balance - tragic but not maudlin. Even the heroic revolutionary 12-year-old boy Gavroche, played with the charming confidence of a child by Daniel Huddlestone, does a wonderful, scene-stealing job with both his acting and singing.
The weakest singer is Crowe. If he only had a rich tenor voice to go along with his acting range it would be perfect. Instead, he seems unsure and his only adequate vocals do not match the confident, strong character of Javert.
This movie is a sort of composite of movie and musical. The virtuoso singing expected in a traditional play is not as dominant here, but the acting is wonderful. The tradeoff is the intimacy missing in the traditional play. Because this is a movie, we also have the benefit of grand vista scenes, and some bird's eye view perspective that would not have worked on a stage production.
This is a wonderful story about the triumph of human dignity, and how simple kindness can change the world. I give it 4 miners.