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Les Misérables - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
Published December 22nd 2012
Les Misérables = Les Moving
Theatrical Release Poster (image courtesy of Working Title Films)

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has long been on the run from the persistent Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) since he has broken parole. Years later, assuming another name, he takes under his care the young girl Cosette after the lonely death of her mother, Fantine (Anne Hathaway). But when Javert catches up with Valjean and the French Revolution swings swiftly into action, choices and sacrifices will be made that are both heart-breaking and uplifting all in one glorious celebration of music, hope, love and the will to fight.

With the world of 19th Century France decaying around them in anger and bloodshed, Les Misérables aims to provide an experience of overwhelming feeling and depth - depth in its characters, or rather not characters, but people. This is a story told - actually sung - by real people about real people. At its core lies provoking questions about the purpose of mankind and the spirituality of survival when all that surrounds is sorrow, death and separation. These central ideas are captured beautifully through the music and the cast, who all rise to the occasion to ensure a performative quality that exists across the board.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean (image courtesy of Working Title Films)

In his leading role of Jean Valjean, Hugh Jackman has reached a new career height. His presence on screen is intense, personal, intimate and utterly captivating. As he bellows out the all-too-familiar "Valjean's Soliloquy" and "At the End of the Day", he commands your attention and he will have it. Also effective in this department is Eddie Redmayne, whose lamenting rendition of "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" will have you stunned. But special mention must be made of Anne Hathaway and her career-topping turn as the tormented and helpless Fantine, a poor woman who cannot help her illegitimate daughter. As she cries out her pain with the hauntingly beautiful "I Dreamed a Dream", you will be left gasping and choking on tears. Just sublime.

Tom Hooper, director of A King's Speech [2011], has again expressed his love for period drama and the thematic relevance of historical context in contemporary audience. With Les Misérables, he is presenting a story of timeless energy and scope. He wants audiences to cheer and chant with the chorus for the epic finale "Do You Hear the People Sing?" as if it's a bright and stark commentary on this central idea of spiritual survival in a world plagued by tragedy and sadness. In all its epic glory, it maintains a good balance of organic quality and visual spectacular. With a grand 19th Century production design that knocks down the illusionary walls of the theatre and takes the musical celebration to the next level, it also has distinctive earthly and organic value in the fact that all the singing was recorded live on set with many of the so-called "inner monologue" songs ("I Dreamed a Dream" being an example of this) being filmed in one long, intimidating-but-intimate close-up, as if the theatrical experience is merely being amplified, not adapted. It is for this quality that you will leave the cinema feeling like you've left a theatre, because the action feels like it's right there in front of you without the comfortable emotional distance that a screen usually provides.

Anne Hathaway as the poorly Fantine (image courtesy of Working Title Films)

While it may have the potential to turn audiences off with its in-your-face style and its 160-minute runtime, one cannot deny the uncompromising vision and detail of the drama. With strong performances all around and an effective, organic design,Les Misérables is an emotionally draining experience but one that cannot - and should not - go unnoticed or undersold. Hooper's film version captures an effective dramatic journey through a celebration of the power of music.

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Why? A fine film version of this theatrical spectacular
When: Opens Boxing Day
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
Your Comment
Matthew, Congratulations on such a magnificent report of this most dramatic
film. You have expressed it SO well. We cannot wait to see the film as we
really love the music and stage-show story. Love "Mama" and "Doc"
by ian.d (score: 0|9) 2988 days ago
Apparently actor Russell Crow had 4 months of intensive singing lessons .Some believe that he should have had a different singing tutor!!!
by The educated (score: 1|71) 2956 days ago
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