I have been excited about Les Misérables for a while now, ever since I heard that a new version was being made. I also allow myself to be enticed by the aggressive marketing in Facebook; I simply couldn’t wait until December 26 when the movie will be released officially here in Australia.
Well, I saw the movie tonight – and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Yes, for some people who are put off by the amount of singing or by musicals in general, Les Misérables may be a challenge. However, if you allow yourself to soak in the story and listen to the songs for what they convey, you will be richly rewarded. For me this movie is also a redemption for me for nodding off during the actual theatrical performance in London 2002. I had the foolishness of booking my Les Misérables theatre performance on the evening after I arrived all the way from Singapore. Jetlagged, I nodded off in several scenes – I was awake through some of the key scenes and did shed some tears through the songs. However, I missed a lot of the play! So this movie is my chance to redeem myself.
If you know the story already, you can skip the next paragraph.
In its heart, Les Misérables is a story of duty, penance and redemption. After being imprisoned for 19 years for stealing bread for his sister’s daughter, prisoner #24601, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), is released on parole. Not being able to secure any employment during a tough time in France, he skips bail after receiving the kindness from a priest. Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is the man who is hot on Jean Valjean’s pursuit, almost on a personal quest to imprison him again. Thrown between these two central characters are Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a single mother who has to provide for her daughter Cossette (Isabelle Allen). As she lays dying, Fantine asks Valjean to take care of Cossette. Valjean manages to find Cossette and raises her up in a convent where he is also hiding from Javert. With the French Revolution brewing, an idealist named Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) is working with his revolutionist friends, trying to overthrow the government. Upon seeing a now grown-up Cossette (Amanda Seyfried) from across the street, Marius is besotted. Valjean realises that Marius can take over his position to take care of Cossette, as part of his vow to Fantine … the issue is, Marius is caught up in the Revolution …
Hugh Jackman plays Valjean wonderfully – you can see that he is Valjean, from the very first scene until the end, as a condemned prisoner, a internally-conflicted nobleman, until the last moment before he releases his final breath. The way that he sings this song, you are made to believe that he means every word. The same comments also apply to Russell Crowe – although people can mock him for his singing ability, this man can sing! Through his songs, I get the internal turmoil that he wants to capture Valjean as a duty for his country, and yet, Valjean doesn’t fit into the criminal that he has in mind. Anne Hathaway is excellent as Fantine – and I dare you not to be teary in the scene where Fantine passes away. Samantha Barks is also perfect as Éponine with her unrequited love for Marius. The weaker link of the stellar cast is unfortunately Amanda Seyfried. Look – I’m not saying that she doesn’t play the part well – in a team where everybody achieves A and A+, being a B+ exposes yourself. Her voice is a tad shrill to my liking.
The man behind this cinematic version is Tom Hooper – the same director who brought us The King’s Speech. He brings the theatre scenes to life in the movie – and acts as an interpreter for those who may need the visual aides to the songs in the story: skillfully and sensitively. The reason why I don’t give the movie a full mark is that I wish there are more conversations in the movie to transition one song to the next, so that we appreciate each song for what they are. In a movie theatre where we can’t see the performers in person nor to soak in the changing set, I believe that this is needed – especially if this movie is aimed at the mass audience, not only those who have an affinity to the play.
So I walk out of the theatre a happy man – after shedding a tear or two or three. I feel for Javert and Valjean – one seeks redemption through fulfilling his duty, and being denied at that; the other one is haunted by his past and paying penance years and years after the nineteen winters as prisoner #24601. In life there is rarely a true hero or a real villain – everybody has a story to tell.