25 ene. 2013

My Review: Les Miserables (8/10)

¨But remember this, my brother, see in this some higher plan. You must use this precious silver to become an honest man. By the witness of the martyrs, by the Passion and the Blood, God has raised you out of darkness; I have bought your soul for God! ¨

Academy Award winning director, Tom Hooper (The King`s Speech), brings one of the most famous musicals based on Victor Hugo`s 1862 novel, Les Miserables, to the big screen with quite a remarkable screenplay adaptation, a beautiful production design, and some stunning performances from the cast. The film is directed in such a way that you feel like you are watching a conventional stage musical rather than a movie. For the viewers like myself that live far away from the big cities and have no option of watching a live musical this is as close as it gets for us. Hooper took a huge risk by letting his actors sing live on set while they were performing instead of simply having them doing playback like in most musical adaptations. This is in my opinion what gave the film such a livelier feel to it and made me feel like I was watching a play. The film is almost entirely sung as there is very little dialogue, so if you aren’t a big fan of musicals you will want to stay away from this one. My only complaint about Hooper`s style of direction is that he used extreme close ups on every character during most of the film, which didn’t allow us to enjoy the grandeur of the production design as much as I would have liked. These close ups were a bit too much for my taste. Most of the songs performed were done in long takes so I can imagine how hard and exhausting it must have been for the actors to get each take right. I enjoyed this film very much, but did have some issues with the length of the movie. Even so, this is a great film and Tom Hooper successfully manages to adapt this well known play. It deserves all the recognition it is getting.

For those of you familiar with the novel or the stage play you might want to skip this second paragraph focusing on the plot. The film takes place during the post-French revolution time period where we are introduced to prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who has spent the past 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread for his dying niece. He is finally being released, but Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) warns him that he must not break parole. ¨Once a thief, always a thief¨ is his motto and he`s sure Valjean will end up behind bars again. Jean finds it extremely difficult to find a job after being marked as a criminal and is very bitter about life, but he finds redemption in a Bishop who saves him from returning to prison and makes him turn his life around. Jean breaks parole and begins a new life as a successful businessman who becomes mayor. He is a kind person, but his past continues to haunt him as Javert appears several years later and recognizes him. Jean has to go on the run again, but not before he makes a promise to a former employee of his, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), to care for her child. Jean wasn’t aware that she was fired from his business after the employees discovered she had a child and was single. Fantine was forced to turn into a prostitute in order to maintain her child, Cosette, who is being cared for by the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) who take advantage of her. Feeling guilty for what has happened to Fantine, Jean pledges to care for Cosette and buys her from the Thenardiers. Several years later we see Jean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) enjoying life together as father and daughter, but once again Jean`s past catches up to him as he runs into Javert during the student revolution led by Marius (Eddie Redmayne). When Cosette and Marius fall in love with each other, Jean realizes he won`t be able to run all his life.

We are all familiar with the story and the universal themes that this classic novel touches such as love, redemption, mercy, poverty, and the revolutionary spirit. The film captures all these themes perfectly thanks to some wonderful performances from Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway who both received Oscar nominations. My favorite character however was the young Gavroche who was played brilliantly by Daniel Huttlestone. Samantha Barks as the broken hearted Eponine also gave a strong performance. Much of the success of the film is owed to these great and inspiring performances. The songs were also beautifully delivered and I enjoyed most of them. I think my favorite one came from the student revolutionaries, ¨Do You Hear the People Sing? ¨ Les Miserables will please fans, but those who have no taste for musicals or haven’t enjoyed the stage productions will hate this film because it is manipulative and over the top. Having that said, I still think Hooper`s effort pays off and he`s made a great musical, although his best film was the much smaller and far less ambitious in scale, The Damned United, which catapulted him to fame. I did not feel as emotional as other people did about this film, and wasn’t moved. In all honesty I was a bit exhausted by the time the credits began rolling, but it still was an entertaining film worth checking out for the performances alone.


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