On the heels of its 25th anniversary of Boublil & Schönberg’s legendary musical, “Les Misérables,” tour, a brand new version has hit the silver screen and it is even better. While panned by some critics, many others are praising the new adaptation and with good reason. Actually, for many reasons.
For those unfamiliar with “Les Misérables,” there are a few things you should know. Although classified as a musical, the movie resembles an opera as every line of dialogue is sung, where as traditional American musicals, two characters will be speaking and then suddenly break out in song. It is also a very long movie with a running time slightly shorter than the stage production, making for a good case to bring back intermissions during long movies. This is actually quite impressive given the length of the original work is filled with 1,400 pages of text! This musical is different from other film adaptations of stage plays as each actor’s voices was recorded during the filming and not dubbed over. Faithful to the stage production, the movie is filled with close ups of the actors and because of this, is much easier to follow the story. That might sound silly, but on stage, the actors tend to look all the same from a distance and it is hard to know who is who.
Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, the story begins with the releasing of peasant Jean Valejean (the almighty Hugh Jackson) from prison. He had been there for 19 years (five for stealing bread for his starving sister and 14 more for numerous escape attempts.) The bitter Jean tries to find honest work, but finds that no one will hire an ex-convict. A bishop takes pity on him and invites Jean into his home for a meal and a place to sleep. Jean decides to steal the bishop’s silver during the night but is caught by police. However, when confronted, the bishop tells the police that the silver was a gift and in fact, that Jean had left in a haste leaving two candlestick holders behind. He also “reminds” Jean of the “promise” he made to use the candlesticks to make an honest man of him. Jean repents and accepts that vow. This is just the start of a series of people making sacrifices for others.
As rumored, Anne Hathaway shines as Fantine, who sings the famed song, “I Dreamed the Dream.” Fantine is a single mother who is taken advantaged of from others but is shown mercy from Valjean when she becomes ill and can no longer pay Thénardier and Madame Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) to care of her only daughter, Cosette. Instead of being well cared for, Cosette is treated like a slave to Theanadier, a petty thief who could take a shirt from a man even as he is wearing it. The combination of Cohen and Carter was an inspired choice. Once again, the beautiful Carter is made to look unkempt and well-used. Valjean vows to take care of Cosette for the rest of her life, which is difficult since he is also wanted by Javert (Russell Crowe) for breaking parole.
As Cosette grows older, (and becomes Amanda Seyfried), she falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a childhood friend of Éponine (Samantha Barks), the daughter of the Thénardiers. Throw in a love triangle, a plot for revenge and a small, but deadly rebellion and you have “Les Misérables.”
The story is both beautiful and terribly tragic at the same time. The message of redemption and the struggle to do the “right thing” is told over and over again. Javier considers himself a man of God, who fights for the law, but shows no mercy. After being shown such mercy, Valjean sees himself as a man forgiven by God and vows to do the Lord’s will throughout the rest of his life. It is so interesting to see two men struggling for the same goal but going about it in two totally different ways – much like Jesus’ disciples and the pharisees.
While this movie is considered Oscar-bait, it should be noted that violence, rude humor and some swearing are included in the price of a ticket. The only negative thing to point out is that the story tends to lag during the middle portion, but stay with it, it has a triumphant ending.