Film review - Les Misérables

Posted on: 10 January 2013 by Agatha Cheng

Laurence Green reviews the movie version of Victor Hugo's masterpiece and is convinced it will triumph at the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

The musical that was initially panned by the critics and has gone on to become a huge success and is still breaking box office records in its 28th year, namely Les Misérables, has been turned into an engrossing, emotionally stirring new movie (on release from January 11) from the Academy Award winning director of The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper.

The year is 1815, the place Toulon, France. After 19 backbreaking years on the chain gang, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who was imprisoned for stealing bread for his sister’s starving children, is released by Javert (Russell Crowe), the officer in charge of the convict workforce. As Valjean struggles to make his way to Digne in search of food, lodging and work, he discovers he is an outcast shunned by everyone. Only Bishop Myriel (Colm Wilkinson) treats him kindly, but Valjean, embittered by years if hardship, repays him by stealing the church’s silver candlesticks. Valjean is soon caught and returned but is astonished when Bishop denies the theft to the police to save him. Henceforth, Valjean decides to start his life anew. move forward eight years to Montreuil-sur-Mer and Valjean, having broken his parole and vanished has used the money made from selling the Bishop’s silver to reinvent himself as Monsieur Madeleine, a respected mayor and factory owner. One of his workers Fantine (Anne Hathaway) has a secret illegitimate child named Cosette to whose guardians she must send every franc she earns. The other women have discovered this and when they think Fantine is behaving above her station by rebuffing the factory foreman because of his advances, they demand her dismissal, and she is thrown out without mercy.

Desperate for money to pay for her daughter’s medicine, Fantine goes to the Red Light district, where she sells her beloved locket, her hair and her teeth, then joins the whores in selling herself. Utterly degraded, she gets into a fight with a violent customer and is about to be arrested by Javert when the mayor arrives and demands she be taken to the hospital instead. Fantine tells Valjean that her daughter is close to dying and promises to go to the inn in Montfermeil, where her daughter is living, and reunites her with her mother. Javert hears that the convict Valjean, whom he has been doggedly hunting has been recaptured, and he goes to see Madeleine to apologise for suspicious. Valjean conceals his shock and hurries home, preparing to leave before the mistake is discovered. Unable to see an innocent man go to prison, Valjean bursts into the courtroom to confess that he is in fact the real Valjean, prisoner 24601. Valjean then goes to the hospital, where he promises the dying Fantine that he will find and raise Cosette as his own. Just as Fantine dies, Javert arrives to arrest Valjean. The two men fight but Valjean manages to escape. However is determined to pursue Valtjean to the bitter end.

Adapted from the epic 150-year-old novel by Victor Hugo, the film, which follows the interweaving lives of several characters spanning just under 20 years, tells a tale of broken dreams, unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption and provides a timeless testament to the endurance of the human spirit. Indeed the first 45 minutes are superb, but then the mood lightens and we are witness to the over-exaggerated comic antics of bawdy innkeeper-cum-professional thieves Monsieur and Madame Thénardier (played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter respectively) which feel distracts from the main core of the drama.

However, there is no denying that the transition from stage to screen works a treat here as the story has been opened out on a grandiose scale, with the French locations heightening the sense of realism and giving a visually impressive quality to the work. memorable music score by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg remains intact with such hits as I Dreamed A Dream, At the End of the Day, One Day More, On My Own, and the rousing Do You Hear the People Sing? Used to both comment on and advance the narrative, seeming as fresh and timeless as ever.

Hugh Jackman, despite a temporary lapse into an Irish brogue at one point, is both compelling and commanding as the outcast Valjean while Russell Crowe, giving his best performance in years, sends a shiver down the spine as his nemesis, the ruthless policeman Javert, and Anne Hathaway provides a truly ravaged portrayal of the stricken prostitute Fantine. Sterling support is given by Amanda Seyfried as the grown up Cosette and Eddie Redmayne as the young revolutionary on the barricades with whom she falls in love. All the actors in accidentally sing their roles themselves.

I am convinced this stunning three hour movie will triumph at the Golden Globes and the Hollywood Oscars!

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