Les Miserables (2012)
Release Date: December 25th, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Tom Hooper Actors: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks
he Dream Cast at Royal Albert Hall this is not. There’s something particularly unnatural about casting well-known dramatic faces in major roles of a popular musical (perhaps most ineffective are Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, here as if transported together from “Sweeney Todd”). They’ll certainly be under spectacular scrutiny from theater aficionados and fans of the previous musical adaptations – perhaps to the point where it’s more distracting than the already jarring nature of dialogue being sung as characters converse amidst the course of a movie. It’s no doubt a specific art form that has a home primarily on the stage. Fortunately, the libretto is still powerful and the characters spectacularly realized, based on the ‘80’s London musical, itself based on Victor Hugo’s celebrated novel. Praise must also be given to the visualization of the sets/locations – lavish, monumental constructions, along with highly detailed costumes and props, which are brandished by effective cinematography.
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is a prisoner in 1815’s France, grudgingly slaving away in the watery prison of the shipyards, under the watchful eye of policeman Javert (Russell Crowe). Even when he’s granted parole after 19 years of hard labor, he’s permanently deemed a dangerous man – without the ability to gain work, he resorts to stealing from a kind monsignor who gives him shelter and food. When he’s caught with the church’s silver, the holy man mercifully lets him go so he can strive to become an honest individual (his original imprisonment was due to stealing bread for his starving family). Eight years later, having broken parole, Valjean is now the successful mayor of the town of Montreuil and hiding under the name Monsieur sur-Mer (properly Madeleine). One of his factory workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), fights with another employee over her illegitimate daughter, resulting in Fantine being thrown out onto the streets, where she must sell her possessions and then herself to survive.
When Fantine passes away in a hospital, Valjean vows to locate her daughter Cosette, who is being mistreated by cruel innkeepers, the Thenardiers (Cohen and Carter). His mission is expedited when Javert catches up to him. After Valjean locates her, the two continue to flee from the unyielding inspector. By 1832, a grown-up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) catches the eye of revolutionary student Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who immediately falls in love. But their harmony is cut short when Valjean takes flight again because he thinks Javert has found him – in reality, it’s merely the thieving Thenardier and his daughter Eponine, who is also in love with Marius, that cause a stir outside Valjean’s residence. Meanwhile, the young rebels build a barricade in the streets of Paris, preparing for a monumental battle (the historical “June Rebellion”).
Adding to the diversions are a few supporting roles that sound conspicuously better than the leads. Primarily the part of Eponine, played by Samantha Barks, stands out – but this is because she previously embodied the Thenardier child in “Les Miserables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary” event. For those unfamiliar with the original plays/performances, the songs will likely blend together a bit, with few standing out as unforgettable. The deliveries aren’t noticeably deficient, but the catchiness and intensity are occasionally lacking. “I Dreamed a Dream” (the most famous), “Do You Hear the People Sing,” and “One Day More” are the most prominent, while “Bring Him Home” is the most stentorian; much of the rest fails to be as strongly enduring. Still, the pacing is surprisingly well handled, the themes of hope and love are commanding, and the epic presentation and striking tragedies can’t be overlooked. This production also marks a unique style for filming a musical – all the singing was recorded live instead of having the actors mime, which definitely shows in the performances.
– Mike Massie