Les Miserables (2012)

Les Miserables (2012)
You know I went to see "Les Miserables" on Christmas Day. You know I convinced family and friends to not get together for dinner on Christmas evening, as was the tradition, because seeing this film was more important. I've been waiting to see "Les Mis" for months, damnit, and I wasn't about to wait any longer. I was ready to see something phenomenal. Something that would be a sucker punch of emotion...and a chance to see some of my favorite actors in a film like I've never seen before.

"Les Miserables" is unlike any film musical I've ever seen. The level of emotion is unmatched. The performances are out of this world. The story is ambitious, and the scope is huge. It's at once a very personal story about its various characters, but at the same time, these people are singing for a generation, that has fascinating parallels to events going on today. It's an incredible feat that I didn't think could be committed to film so well.

Director Tom Hooper certainly had the courage of his convictions. A film adaptation of Cameron Mackintosh and Claude Michel Schonberg's beloved stage musical "Les Miserables" had been in development hell since the mid 1980s. The pieces for a successful film adaptation never quite came together. A non-musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel starring Liam Neeson and Uma Thurman came out in 1998, but that film was sub-par at best.

Hooper assembled a cast that doesn't seem like the best fit for a musical, including Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, none of which, to my knowledge, are trained singers. He then decided that these actors, as well as everyone else in the cast, would sing live, instead of lip-synching to studio-prerecorded tracks. I had not known that movie musicals typically did it this way, and that singing live was a new and scary thing. This element would heighten emotion for the audience. This idea is superb and will show to be a game-changer for movie musicals. Each actor's performance is more intimate and personal than they would have been otherwise. Hooper really wants the viewer to connect emotionally with these characters, and for the most part, we connect with these people deeply.

"Les Mis" follows Jean Valjean (Jackman), a man who was jailed for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family - five years for the theft, and thereafter for subsequent attempts to escape. He breaks his parole, and police inspector Javert (Crowe) dedicates his life to imprisoning Valjean again. Valjean comes across Fantine (Hathaway), an unwed mother who, after unjustly losing her job, is degraded to the point of no return, being forced to sell her hair, her teeth, her body and her dignity. Valjean promises Fantine that he will raise her daughter Cosette as his own, in her absence. Valjean then saves Cosette from the Thenardiers(Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, pairing up in their second movie musical), neglectful guardians and scheming inkeepers, and the story picks up years later, where Cosette is a young woman (Amanda Seyfried), living mostly in peace. A young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne) falls in love with her. The Thenardier's destitute biological daughter Eponine has a hopeless and unrequited love for Marius. These young characters dive headfirst into what would become a very important part of the French Revolution.

The story of the French Revolution, as depicted in the film, is so reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street protests that went on last year - a group of young idealists looking for a better tomorrow. They're willing to die in the name of a future. They're extremely passionate and exuberant. There are protests, except, you know, they're all sung.

Yes, it's all sung. Les Miserables is two hours and forty minutes of song. There's no real spoken dialogue the entire way through. Every minute is sung live as well. And if this bothers you, please skip "Les Mis" and enjoy watching something like "Twilight" or "Jack Reacher". Tom Hooper made this film a game-changer for the way a movie-musical is supposed to work. Lip-synching a pre-recorded studio version seems economical, but today, can allow for auto-tuning and editing a singer's voice. It doesn't feel personal. The voices in "Les Mis" sound raw and real. The actors sang live onset with earpieces playing piano accompaniment, with a 70-piece orchestra being added in in post production. The music sounds extraordinary. There sure as hell isn't any auto-tuning going on.

For example, take Anne Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream". At this point in the story, we don't know Fantine very well, but we see the struggle that she's put through. She's at her lowest point. Hathaway half-belts and half-sobs the iconic song, the entire thing being filmed in one take. It's an extremely emotional performance that will bring any person with a heart, to tears.

Criticism that I've been hearing of the film mostly revolves around the performances of Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman, as Javert and Valjean. I think both of these guys did fantastic jobs, quite frankly. Crowe isn't the best singer in the world, but his voice fits the part of Javert very well. As for Jackman, well, it could be argued that he carried the entire film. I think he did a splendid job; the role of Jean Valjean is a giant undertaking, and I think he nailed it.

However, the real excellence of this film lies in the supporting cast. Everybody is perfectly cast, but particularly Samantha Barks in the role of Eponine. She played the same character in the 25th Anniversary performance of Les Miserables, only two years ago. One small criticism; my favorite part of Eponine's solo (and theme song to self-loathing masochists everywhere) "On My Own", the beginning part, is cut entirely. However, once you see what Barks does with this song it's easily forgiven.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, who look like they're in "Sweeney Todd 2", are great comic relief as the Thenardiers. Cohen is the only cast member in this Paris-set film who sings in a French accent, however... I find that strange. Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit are perfect as Marius and his colleague Enjolras. Redmayne's "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables", near the end of the film, will make you cry. His voice goes to extraordinary places, and in such an emotional number, where he's telling the story of his friends who are no longer with him, this is a place where the live singing truly shines.

The live singing, itself, is a huge undertaking, cinematically. Director Tom Hooper certainly had alot at stake with this project, however, there are still things that he could have done better. There are so many close-ups in the film. While they work for solos like "I Dreamed A Dream" and "Empty Chairs", they don't work for others. I also kind of feel like Hooper used the fish-eye camera lens a little too often, but these are inconsequential criticisms that don't make the film any less powerful.

I hate it when people applaud in a movie theater. I find it trite and kind of pointless, unless you're at the world premiere of the movie, with the director and actors present. However, I'm not ashamed to say that "Les Miserables" brought me to tears no less than five times. I was completely enthralled by each actor's performance, and the applause that the entire theater gave at the end was completely appropriate and well-deserved. I wanted to watch it again the minute it ended, and for a nearly three hour long film, I think that's a pretty high compliment. Don't miss it.

Grade: A+

Synopsis: Hugh Jackman, Oscar-winner Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway star in the critically acclaimed adaptation of the epic musical phenomenon that is a timeless testament to the human spirit.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe
Supporting actors: Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
Runtime: 2 hours 39 minutes
Captions and Subtitles: English Details
Release year: 2012
Studio: Universal Pictures
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements


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