Friday, January 11, 2013

Review: Les Miserables

Director: Tom Hooper

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway

Year: 2012

Genre: Drama

Rated: PG-13

Length: 157 min.

IMDB Summary: In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever.

With a stellar cast, visually-arresting sets and nuanced renditions of the beloved songs, Les Miserables brings the gripping story of Jean Valjean to life. Jackman was brilliant as Valjean, skillfully using pacing, tone and movement in his singing to convey the intense emotions that his character experiences. As a viewer, I found Jackman's rendition of "Who Am I?" especially gripping. Hathaway's portrayal of Fantine is also noteworthy. Despite the small amount of screen time her character has, Hathaway manages to elicit sniffles and tears with her rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream." Also touching is her duet with Jackman as she prepares to die. While Jackman and Hathaway gave the best performances, in my view, there were several other notable performances. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter gave the audience some comedic relief, but walked a fine line with the humorous aspects of their characters. Unlike the stage production, the Les Mis film adaption treats the Thenaridiers as clever, devious crooks rather than bumbling idiots, which is more faithful to their portrayal in Hugo's novel. Still, Cohen and Carter manage to elicit laughs in a film dominated by emotional intensity. Another notable performance was that of Eddie Redmayne (Marius). Although his voice had a tendency to outshine that of Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) in rally scenes, Redmayne used singing to project emotion remarkably well, especially in the "Little Fall of Rain" scene with Samantha Barks (Eponine).

Most of the casting for Les Miserables was spot-on, including that of Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche. However, I thought Russell Crowe as Javert gave a flat performance musically, especially in numbers such as "Stars." I'd hoped that Crowe's vocal performance would at least equal Jackman's in terms of voice placement, breath control and quality, but Jackman easily surpassed Crowe, reducing the oomph of numbers such as "The Confrontation." I also thought that Samantha Barks made "On My Own" into an American Idol number instead of seizing the opportunity to act through her singing and using artistic license with the original score. In general, a criticism of the film is the choppy nature of the French Revolution portion, where one song folds into another with little context. It feels as if Hooper was pressed for time and just wanted to record the songs, then pack up and leave. I thought the French Revolution portion felt rushed, with viewers barely getting to know Enjolras and the rebels before they fight and die.

With that said, Les Miserables is a must-see. Although the stage musical will always have a special place in my heart, Tom Hooper's film adaption of Les Miserables is truly a masterpiece of our time.

For Parents:
Prostitution is portrayed as a filthy, wretched business, with the prostitutes ugly and cheap. Fantine sees her first customer. Nothing graphic is shown. The camera focuses on Fantine's face while the act occurs. The scene lasts a few seconds. Another man bullies Fantine after she rejects his advances. The police arrive just in time. At the Thenaridiers' inn, a cat's tail is chopped off and added to a stew for customers. A trashy woman and a man dressed as Santa Claus are briefly glimpsed in bed. In the French Revolution portion, a boy is shot by the enemy. Men are stabbed and shot during the fight. Valjean enters a sewer to save Marius' life. The two emerge covered in mud and feces.

My Rating:

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