Movie Review: Les Miserables

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I have secretly been wanting to play Eponine in a production of Les Miserables for a few years now– and this has yet to happen, but I was extremely excited to go to my local theatre and see the movie-musical adaptation of this beloved story.

Les Miserables is the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who was imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister and nephew, and his search for redemption and hopes of escaping his past. He is helped by a Bishop Myriel (Colm Wilkinson– theatre nerd fact: Wilkinson was the first actor to play Valjean in the London production in 1985), who provides him with the money to begin a new life,  and moves to Montreuil where he assumes the pseudonym Madeleine and creates a manufacturing business and becomes the mayor of the town. While Valjean is trying to desperately to recreate his life and redeem himself, the police officer Javert (Russell Crowe) is constantly chasing after him and hopes to re-imprison Valjean.

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Meanwhile, one of Valjean’s employees, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), is fired from her job for being in a fight that was not her fault, and is forced to being a prostitute in order to pay for her child Cosette’s (Amanda Seyfried) care at the Thenadrier’s (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) inn. (WARNING! SPOILERS!) When Fantine dies, her daughter Cosette is rescued by Valjean, who swore to Fantine that he would protect her daughter, and raised by him. The story then jumps to 1832, when Cosette is a young woman and she lives with Valjean in Paris as college students are protesting against the monarchy. It is one revolutionary, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who is friends with Eponine (Samantha Barks; who was raised with Cosette and is the daughter of the Thenadriers) and falls for Cosette. The story then shows Valjean’s acceptance of Cosette growing up and his role in the small revolution.

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This film was absolutely stunning. I loved almost everything about it– the cinematography, the acting, and the music. Now, this movie is one you either love or hate– there is no in-between on this film, to be honest– because of the style. Not only does this film include all 49 songs in the musical, but added a new one (called “Suddenly”). Furthermore, the shots in this film are very “artsy” and focus on the actors’ faces a majority of the time. I loved that this film had some elements in the novel that are not always in the stage production. (WARNING! SPOILERS!) Such as when Fantine has her hair cut off and some of her teeth pulled; when Valjean and Cosette are on the run from Javert outside of the wall of Paris; and that Javert’s back is broken and that is what kills him when he commits suicide.

Another thing that is amazing about this film is that all of the songs were sung live, which is why the songs are not as glossy and perfect as movie-musicals typically are. By far, the best singers were Hathaway, Jackman, and Redmayne– I cried during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and am still listening to it.

Overall, it is a very unique film and I think everyone should see it at some point before the Academy Awards, where this film will sweep the ceremony.

Now, while I loved this film so much, there were some things I did not love. Such as the transitions between scenes are very abrupt and have little connecting them and the end did not have Eponine in it until the group number, unlike the play version. And finally, Russell Crowe is the “weak link” in this film– he does not have a horrible voice (he is no where near as painful as Bronson in Mama Mia!) but in group numbers his voice sticks out painfully and seems worse when compared to other actors, especially Jackman. After watching this film, I think Hathaway and Jackman will walk away with Oscars– and Redmayne needs to be nominated at a minimum.

Les Miserables was first a novel written by French political exile Victor Hugo, who also wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and was published in 1862 (although Hugo began working on the novel in 1845). The unabridged copy of the novel, which I own and have read, is 1,463 pages long (see photo below of my copy). The novel is fantastically written and leaves an enormous impact on the reader in regards to the unique characters and details of France’s history after the Revolution, which is not as discussed in history classes and documentaries. If you really want to dedicate yourself to a novel for a few months that encompases both amazing characters and interesting history, then Les Miserables is for you.

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Les Miserables became a musical in 1980 in France and was then transformed in 1985 by Cameron Macintosh, who created the iconic version of this play. There was also a movie version in 1998, which starred Liam Nesson, but it focused on the novel alone and had a difficult time condensing it all into one film without removing characters or events. And there was a miniseries for television that was released in 2000, but once again focused strictly on Hugo’s novel and had difficult time condensing.

My Grade: 9.9/10

What do you think of Les Miserables? Have you seen the film, play, or read the book? And do you think it will win anything from the Academy?

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