Considering the film’s title literally translates to ‘The Miserables’, I knew I was in for a somewhat depressing 2 and a half hours. And yes, turns out the French Revolution, while, ahem, revolutionary, also stemmed from a lot of people living poor, miserable lives.
Not exactly the cheeriest topic for a musical, but onwards and upwards, if not to please the late Victor Hugo, then to check out the always visually appearing Eddie Redmayne.
The musical is separated into three sections, dating in 1815, 1823 and and 1833.
The film begins with the central character, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) being released by police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) after serving as a slave for 20 years (5 for stealing a loaf of bread, 15 for trying to escape…unfortunate). However, he is put on parole indefinitely, and during this time he finds that he is treated as a social pariah and cannot begin a proper life for himself. It isn’t until he hits rock bottom, stealing silver from a Bishop, that Valjean chooses to destroy his papers, avoid his parole and begin a new life for himself.
Eight years on and Valjean has become mayor and factory owner. During a visit to his factory he witnesses a fight between Fontaine, who is sending money to her illegitimate daughter, and the other factory workers, who want her fired. Despite being unfairly dismissed, Valjean fails to do anything about it, instead helping a man who is being crushed by a fallen wagon.
Driven by poverty, and her need to provide food for her daughter, Fontaine is driven to prostitution, desolate in what her life has become. When Valjean encounters her again, she rages at him, accuses him of ignoring what occurred at his factory, and leading her to the life she lives leads. In retribution he vows to take in her young daughter, Cosette.
Cossette (Amanda Seyfried) is now a young woman, who spends most of her time with Valjean, who is still in hiding from Javert. When out one day however, she sights Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and they instantly fall in love. Only thing is, despite being young and wealthy, he’s also leading a group to fight in the revolution.
Isn’t that always the way with love at first sight?
What was right:
- The singing: I’ll be the first to admit that at times I don’t really get the point of musicals. So many of them have the problem of having a storyline, stopping and singing for no good reason for ten minutes, and then resuming the storyline. And well, clearly my impatient self just doesn’t understand why (lack of fine upbringing I’d say, blame my parents). This wasn’t the case with Les Mis. While there was singing, in fact probably 95% of the film was sung, I wasn’t annoyed by it, and I think it’s because it was all relevant. While there were the big numbers everyone’s heard before, with the full orchestra, choir etc, most of the time it’s them just singing their dialogue. In fact, there’s rarely any spoken words at all. Furthermore, Les Mis was the first film to be sung ‘live’ as in, shot, sung and edited, without the (heavily edited) singing put in afterwards. While this did mean that often the actors didn’t hit the notes perfectly, it simply added to the realness and grittiness of the film, fitting considering it was set during the mid-19th century.
- The editing: While it was originally a book, Les Miserables is more well-known for its translation into a play, which director Tom Hooper acknowledged with his direction. There were clear acts and scenes throughout the film, which added that extra touch, particularly combined with the aforementioned ‘live’ singing.
- The acting: While people have said that some of the acting was melodramatic and over-the-top, I thought the actors were spot on. It’s a musical about the french revolution, that’s how it’s meant to be. OK, yes Anne Hathaway hammed it up for her approximate three scenes, and everyone is saying she’s gunning for an Oscar, but damnit, when you cut off all your hair, lose a tonne of weight, hold a note AND manage to express so much emotion simply through a look, then yes, you kinda deserve an Oscar. Other notable performances were Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, the cunning, comic and very awful inn-keepers, and Russell Crowe, whose portrayal of Javert just made me want to kick someone.
- Amanda Seyfried’s singing: Who knew this gal could sing so well? And to think she was once known as Karen from Mean Girls, who couldn’t spell orange. Bless.
- Hugh Jackman. Can this man do any wrong? He plays a mutant with claws in X-Men and we loved him; he plays a playboy serial killer in Scoop and I loved him, and now he’s successfully won everyone’s hearts over as a filthy, gaunt ex-convict. What a star. And proud to call him an Aussie too.
- Eddie Redmayne. Oh hello. While at times your singing was a bit off, and you hard it rather easy compared to the rest, Eddie Redmayne, I am a fan. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that, I’m shallow, and you provided a touch of attractiveness to an otherwise very grim and dirty film. Cheers.
- Eponine’s character. Considering she was the crazy inn-keepers daughter, plus she was in love with Cosette’s man, I guess Eponine was meant to be the ‘bad guy’. However, I didn’t get this at all. She helped out Marius when she needed him to, and led him to Cosette, despite pretty much breaking her heart in the process. Can you imagine that? Not to mention, despite being a woman who is a part of a truly selfish family, she is one of the first to lay her life down in honour of the revolution.
What was wrong:
Pretty much the only thing I had wrong with this film was that it went for 2 and a half hours, and my bum got really sore. Also, while the film was depressing, at no point did I feel the urge to openly weep (a sign of a good heart-wrenching film). Perhaps this says something about myself (e.g. I have no soul) but I found there was something, just a touch, that was missing, despite the swell of emotions the film obviously contained.
Overall, this is a film I would definitely recommend watching. The acting is superb, the song’s catchy and enjoyable, AND there’s eye candy. In fact, I think I enjoyed Les Mis so much I may have to get my lazy bum into gear and organise to see it as a play.
Have you seen, sung or read Les Miserables? What did you think? Great storyline? Too long? Justice to the play or the book? Let me know!