Les Misérables (2012) (PG-13)

"Les Misérables" is a movie that is not without fault. Taking one of the most beloved plays from stage to screen and then trying to make it extremely intimate by filming basically the whole film in close-up was a risky maneuver, but I think that it paid off.
"Les Misérables" is based on Victor Hugo's work of the same name. It would be presumptuous to assume that, even though it's a musical, it's a happy time. Keep in mind that the name is literally translated from French to "The Miserables".
The film is set in the 1800s during time of revolution. The opening scene reveals a clearly CGI ship being pulled by a group of criminals that include our protagonist Jean Valjean. He's haggard and his cheeks are sunken and his eyes are bloodshot. He looks exhausted, yet he's still able to carry a large wooden beam that must weigh a large amount a length of distance to impress his prison supervisor, Javert.
Jean Valjean and Javert are the two ends of the spectrums, good and evil, light and darkness. But Javert is just doing his job and Valjean has been treated unfairly. There are opposite forces that are forced together by odd circumstances.
The reason Valjean was in jail in the first place was for stealing a piece of bread to feed someone in need...not exactly a cold-hearted criminal.
He's released and soon dedicates his life to Christ and helping others.
Eight years later, it's 1823 and France is rising in a turmoil. The lady Fantaine works at a factory that is owned by Valjean. She's representative of the average person during this time period: abused, under-fed, and desperate. She's sending the money that she makes to her daughter Cosette. Eventually she has to become a prostitute to make any money and complications soon arise from that.
Many years later Cosette has grown up during the time that an idea of revolution has reached its climax in the mind of the people.
"Les Misérables" has many characters and many stories that all intertwine and weave together to form the tapestry of the film itself.
While I'm not entirely enthralled with some of the decisions that were made I was impressed by the movie itself. Possibly the most bizarre choice to me was casting Russell Crowe in the film to begin with. Does he really do that great of a job? Couldn't they have found someone who could have brought a little more drive to the character? I would think so...but it's not a bad acting job, he just pales in the light of his co-stars namely Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Eddie Redmayne.
For those who didn't know, "Les Misérables" is a musical without end. There is no break in between songs in which characters talk and then break out into singing. It's constant. This could be off-putting to some if they were expecting something else.
The things I had a problem with were picky, I'll admit that. I thought that Valjean was too quickly turned around to religion, I thought Jackman hit some notes that weren't perfect....that goes for Amanda Seyfried as the grown up Cosette as well.
But these are small fries compared to the magnificence that the rest of the film produces.
The epic ensemble cast songs are some of the most powerful moments in film from 2012. It's emotional and well-done. You forget the bland parts when some of the more sensational scenes are playing and that's hard to accomplish. The action is surprising, it is a film about revolution after all, but it is a musical as well. Guns and singing....not your usual combination when there's not beer involved but it really works for "Les Misérables".
The cinematography and costumes are both sensational, as are the sets but what really makes this movie work is its head. It's not a dumb, wandering musical that could have worked if someone had pointed it in the right direction. It's got an intelligence that's impossible to fake. There is much to glean from "Les Misérables". It was certainly one of the best films of 2012, maybe not my favorite or the best...but still worth the watch.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

1 comment:

  1. I just found this. I feel silly.

    Thinking about what you didn't like plot-wise, the quick religious turn around, has a lot to do with why this movie was a big deal in the first place: It was a stage musical. His life altering moment after being pardoned by the bishop was almost as quick as Marius and Cosette falling in love. It's not just this musical, either. Wicked, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Annie Get Your Gun, etc. However, this instance it isn't love, which can make it harder to accept.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. This is my favorite stage musical ever, and the movie gives a great tribute. There's all forms of things and decisions I could point out as neat facts that relate to the history of the play.

    Some things were changed for the movie, and that's not a bad thing. It was able to reflect events in the book that had to be changed due to the impossibility of doing it live. Characters weren't belting it out like they would on sometimes stage, and quality had to be sacrificed for emotion. "Suddenly" was not strategically used. When Mummy and I first heard the concept of the song, we thought it would be used as a montage of watching Cosette grow up and see him have those father moments. However, the little girl was just napping in his lap, and the song didn't really fit in the rest of the musical. I mean, the creators of the musical came up with it and said it did, but I beg to differ. It had it's own melody, as compared to the ingeniously recycled themes in the rest of the movie.

    One thing I think I disagree with you on is that Valjean vs Javert wasn't a good vs evil relationship as much as moral good vs evil good. Valjean broke his parole, and Javert went to get him. But things slowly got more complicated than that... I won't say more. Spoilers and such.

    -Jackman: His vibratos drive me nuts, but I can't picture anyone else doing it.
    -Hathaway: She was genius for her 4 scenes. She made me weep. A lot. No Fantine has ever done that before.
    -Seyfried: I never supported this decision at any point in time. She wasn't great in Mamma Mia! and... yeah, I way don't understand.
    -Crowe: His voice was alright. It just was NOT a Javert voice. Javert is very crisp, clean, and enunciating. Crowe isn't any of those things. What makes me maddest is that he didn't understand his character, or why he would have made the decisions he did. I'm not saying he needed to agree, but at least understand?
    -Barks: I love her. Picked her up right out of the play. It made me sad she had to focus more on being upset than her quality, but that's just me.
    -Redmayne: The only name I didn't recognize. His solo was one of my favorites, and he did it so much justice. I was thrilled.
    -HBC: I hate her being in this movie. She acted like she was in a Tim Burton movie, and sounded miserable. But hey, even she knew it so at least she's not completely delusional.