I’ve always wondered who, besides those that do not celebrate Christmas, go to the movies on December 25th. It’s usually a day filled with family festivities and such. Who has the time? Well, my family and I decided to make an exception and go see Les Misérables, starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway. If filmmakers release films like what we witnessed yesterday every Christmas day, my family will forever make the movies a holiday tradition.
The film is the adaptation of the most popular Broadway musical of the modern era, which is the adaptation of one of the greatest novels ever written. Les Misérables, written by Victor Hugo and published in 1862, was a great commercial success around the world, but received mixed reviews from critics. Some things never change. However, the musical was both commercially successful and received well by critics. There have been many film versions of the book; however, this is the first time the musical has been filmed.
Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean, inmate 24601. After 19 years of hard time for stealing a loaf of bread, he receives his parole, a miserable existence in 19th century France. Unable to find work, and given to starvation and homelessness, Valjean is eventually taken in by a kind priest who feeds him and gives him rest. Valjean betrays the priest, is caught by the police, and knows he will now rot in prison for the rest of his life. However, the priest has other plans for Valjean. What follows is one of the greatest stories of redemption, second chances, loyalty, honor, and sacrificial love ever written.
The film is a hurricane of cinematic experiences. Its waves repeatedly crash against the shores of the audience’s emotions, leaving so little time to recover and catch a breath. From the very beginning, you’re overwhelmed with heartbreak by the suffering portrayed by Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. His face wears the agony well and his singing voice cuts to the heart quick. You think that it cannot get any worse, but you are wrong.
Anne Hathaway, as Fantine, will make you regret every moment you ever complained about your own miserable experiences. The turmoil and hopelessness that Fantine must endure will anger you and you’ll want to yell out for someone to have a heart and help her. Don’t, though. The rest of the people in the theater, though they’ll want to do the same, won’t appreciate it. Hathaway gives one of the most powerful song performances in the film with “I Dreamed A Dream”. I dare you not to cry. The sobbing in the theater almost drowned out the soundtrack.
Russell Crowe is relentless as Javert, the law abiding and pompous police inspector who thinks his sole purpose in life is to capture the fugitive Jean Valjean. Crowe was an interesting casting choice. Though his singing voice is good, it doesn’t carry the authority one would think the character Javert should have. However, what Crowe lacks in singing, which is very little, he makes up in acting. He is one of our great actors and his presence in the film is not easily forgotten. The brilliance of Les Misérables is that the audience can relate to all sides of the story. Javert, though misguided in judgement, is, after all, a man with a job to do. He takes it seriously, but all work and no play for Javert is a deadly choice.
The story is so heart-wrenching that by the mid-point, I was happy to have some comic relief to ease the pain. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter give an unforgettable performance as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. The song “Master of the House” will make you laugh, tap your foot, and enjoy a brief time of recovery. It’s a great scene, but not the last that you will see of them. That’s a good thing, because you’re going to need these two later.
The rest of the film introduces new characters that, I hate to tell you, will only drain your emotions even more. There’s revolution, tragic loss, new found love, and desperate longing for peace. The hurricane only grows more powerful, adding furious winds of hope to the waves of despair. And when the storm finally ends, you are left exhausted in your seat; your popcorn not touched, your drink barely sipped, and you can’t believe what you just watched. Everything you have experienced watching films leading up to this moment will seem trivial and silly.
Les Misérables will win many awards. Hugh Jackman will get the Academy Award for best actor. Anne Hathaway is in the lead for best actress. But the awards will pale in comparison with the experiences that the audience will take with them after watching this masterpiece in cinematic creation. Go see it now.
Retraction: I was a little hard on Russell Crowe. The character of Javert is an integral part of the story and the songs he sings are powerful. I admit that I made my assessment of Crowe’s performance based on the opening song. That was unfair. Why do I think so? Because aside from Hathaway’s “I Dreamed A Dream”, Crowe’s rendition of “Stars” is the song that occupies my mind the most. Upon purchasing the film’s soundtrack, it is the most played song I listen to. That has to count for something, right? So, in light of all this, I would like to say that Russell Crowe puts on a great performance in both song and acting. (added 12/30/12)
And now for your viewing pleasure -