MRR Movie Review: Les Misérables


Movie Review: "Les Miserables" (2012)

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 157 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2012
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Genre: Musical/Drama/Romance

"Les Miserables" is the film adaptation of one of the most enduringly popular novels ever written. Set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century France, it portrays the universal themes of broken dreams, sacrifice, passion, love, and redemption. Ardent fans of the stage musical will love this movie. It showcases impressive musical performances from the cast, especially Hugh Jackman, who plays the main protagonist Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, the long-suffering mother of Cosette, whom Valjean eventually adopts.

Valjean is a former convict imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's starving family. He is released from prison on parole after nineteen years.

However, the freed convict faces the world as an outcast. Marked as a dangerous man, Valjean finds it impossible to find a legitimate means of earning his keep. His encounter with a kind bishop gives him the chance to turn his life around.

Valjean breaks his parole and escapes. Under an assumed identity, he becomes a wealthy factory owner and is appointed mayor of the town where he lives. Valjean meets a dying prostitute, Fantine, whose daughter he rescues from an abusive couple. Meanwhile, Javert, a ruthlessly ambitious policeman is determined to capture Valjean. Valjean is forced to reveal his real identity when a man is mistakenly identified as the ex-convict. Pursued by Javert and with Cosette to take care of, Valjean must now find a way to start a new life.

The movie showcases impressive musical performances by Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Hathaway does a heart-wrenching rendition of Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream." For this scene alone, Hathaway deserves at least an Oscar nomination. Her flawless performance is not surprising to those who know that Hathaway watched her mother portray Fantine on stage many years ago.

It is pleasantly surprising to hear that Hugh Jackman has good pipes. However, not everybody agrees. Others may complain about Jackman's singing, but nobody can disagree that he delivered a consistently convincing performance. Considering that Jackman portrayed Valjean throughout different stages of his life-from a bitter convict to a philanthropic-father figure-Jackman's performance in this film is a dramatic feat of the highest degree. Besides delivering an Oscar-worthy performance, the actor did not hesitate to make sacrifices for the sake of his art. His tired, worn-out look at the beginning of the film was reportedly a result of fasting and sleep deprivation.

While Russell Crowe's acting skills remain top-notch, the same cannot be said of his singing talents. Crowe has never touted himself as a singer. Despite this shortcoming, he was perfect for the role of the coldhearted Javert. While his voice may not be up to par, his acting was excellent.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Samantha Barks as Eponine are equally brilliant in the film. Both are experienced musical performers. In this movie, Seyfried tops her performance in "Mama Mia." Samantha Barks validates her claim to fame as the girl who won the role of Eponine over Taylor Swift. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter lend a bit of kookiness and levity to an otherwise heavy drama.

The movie is superbly directed by Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar for "The King's Speech." This project could be one of the highlights of Hooper's career and could possibly earn him another Oscar. One of the biggest challenges for Hooper and the actors during filming was to make the singing dialogues work. The singing was not dubbed in the recording studio; the actors sang as the scenes were shot.

This resulted in a better integration between the spoken dialogue and the sung parts. The audience can feel the emotions more deeply and intensely in the songs.
The visual effects provide a good reason to see the movie even if one has already seen the musical. It is not possible to re-create the film's visual grandeur and amazing scenery on stage. The image of French convicts pulling a ship through a storm is a sight to behold, and the set was a convincingly realistic depiction of nineteenth-century France.

The makeup artists also created excellent makeup effects, as evidenced by Jackman's transformation from a decrepit convict to a well-dressed mayor and factory owner. Jackman is unrecognizable at the beginning of the film. Valjean must have borne the traces of the horrors of prison life. The makeup artists were able to successfully create a look of suffering and hardship all over the actor's face and on his head. Makeup played a big part in Jackman's successful portrayal of Valjean throughout the character's long and tiring journey through life.

"Les Miserables" is an unforgettable movie that deserves Oscar nominations in the top categories. It is an impressive film interpretation of a literary classic that mirrors the human experience of suffering and carries a message of hope and redemption. The top-caliber performances of the actors, Hooper's masterful direction, the stunning visual effects, and other elements of the film make it a must-see classic.

Rating 4 out of 5