I Saw A Film Today… Les Misérables

lesmis1In my youth, I was quite dismissive of musicals. This, despite the persistence from a group of friends who tried to get it through my thick skull that they can be quite brilliant at times. To act, to dance, to sing all at once is quite a talent and it brings a new appreciation for the art. And one of those musicals that has haunted me with interest has been Les Misérables. And it’s not because I knew a terrible lot about it going in. Really the only thing I knew about it was that it was French and about a guy who gets arrested for stealing bread.

After serving nineteen years in prison for the small act of stealing bread, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released from the clutches of the strict prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe). But to start a truly new life and to fulfill a promise to a priest, Jean breaks his parole and runs to the town of Montreuil. After eight years, he runs a successful factory and is also the mayor of the town.

But his past rides into town in the form of Javert and when Jean decides to help a desperate mother named Fantine (Oscar frontrunner Anne Hathaway),  he once again is on the lam, but this time with sweet Cosette, Fantine’s daughter.

Nine more years pass and Jean and Cosette (Now portrayed by Amanda Seyfried) are in the heart of Paris at a turbulent time for that city. Love and war hang heavy in the air. The revolution is about to begin.

Les Mis is a massive film. Not just in time, which clocks in around 158 minutes, but in story. There is so much density in the minutes that tick away in this film that the only way to describe it is as epic.  There are many things I left out of the previous paragraphs. And usually when there is more plot than time, the story is clunky and the pacing is erratic. But not here.

This is just one of the attributes that Tom Hooper brings to the table. His filming style is both conventional and unconventional at the same time. He has a hint of Terry Gilliam to him at times, and at other he just seems like a run-of-the-mill Joe Schmo director. An Englishman if there ever was one.

Like most musicals, I expected there to be musical numbers and dialogue. But in this adaptation nearly everything is sung, which I found more of a hindrance than helpful. The weakest moments, both story and dialogue-wise, were the moments when the actors awkwardly carried on filler conversations in song. Then again, this is my first viewing of this story in any type of format. But that doesn’t change the fact the actors were at their weakest in these moments.

One of the others things that Hooper brings to this film is the revealing and reductive power of the close up. It can be a disastrous or glorifying tool in a directors arsenal and Hooper uses it near masterfully. The best example is Anne Hathaway’s brilliant and Oscar-worthy performance of “I Dreamed A Dream”. For a continuous four minutes, the camera stays fixed on her Fantine’s tear-inducing performance. Though short, her portrayal is nothing short of brilliance.

The moments between Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman are very entertaining for the most part. Their duel of songs is intense and though both are not the best vocalist, they make up for it with enthusiasm. Amanda Seyfried is someone I usually associate with mediocrity (Ex: The Roommate) but she does great here. And the duo of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen was abundantly humorous and lightened the mood of such a serious film.

There is much more that probably should or could be addressed here. Other performances and plot lines that need discussing. But why spoil more than I should? Mystery is a gift sometimes. This classic tale of France should be experienced, whether you’re a fan of musicals or not.

Verdict: See it!

*Rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence, and thematic elements. 158 minutes.

 

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