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Published February 1st 2013
The film of the musical of the book
In the prologue of Les MisÚrables Victor Hugo gives a lengthy explanation of the injustices that caused him to write his masterwork and ends with the words: ". . . so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this."
Musical poster. Image by Queen's Theatre.
The new film leaves fans of the novel in two minds. On one hand, Hugo's words are still relevant to modern injustice and it's a great thing that modern audiences are being exposed to this classic piece of literature and its timeless themes. On the other hand, the film stirs up a lot of emotion, but does little to stir up a fight against injustice, which the book so powerfully does.
However, the film is not based on the novel, but rather the musical adaptation, which is an entirely different genre and a well-loved work of art in its own right. So leaving a comparison with the novel aside, this is a film to be seen for several reasons.
The main accomplishment of the film is the realism of the singing, acting, and set design. By recording the singing along with the acting performance, the film manages to bypass the superficiality and unreal quality that ruins other film versions of musicals.
The stand-out performance is clearly Hugh Jackman in the title role of Jean Valjean (although the ThÚnardiers are a close second). For certain, Jackman brings to life the themes of forgiveness, redemption, and second chances. On the opposite end, Russell Crowe's portrayal of Javert is the most disappointing aspect of the film. Perhaps if the film was not a musical, the emotionless and cold Crowe could have pulled off a more faithful performance. However, his voice, though not terrible, lacked the power needed for Javert, which was especially apparent in scenes with Jackman.
The film runs to about the same length as the musical (nearly 3 hours), but without the intermission of the stage performance. Near the time when Marius is singing 'Empty Chairs and Empty Tables' I started to hope that the ending was near.
Beautifully filmed, emotive, and inspirational, Les MisÚrables will leave you humming the score and, hopefully, searching for a place to purchase the novel.