Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
“Now life has killed the dream I dreamed,” sings Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who’s become a prostitute after being fired from the factory she worked at to support her daughter in the big screen film adaptation of the Broadway hit musical, Les Miserables.
Victor Hugo’s classic story remains the same, taking place in 19th century France and focusing on Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman), a convict released from prison after serving almost 20 years for stealing a small loaf of bread so his sister’s child wouldn’t starve. After receiving kindness from a priest who takes him in when no one else would and finding God, Valjean decides to break parole to create a new life for himself while being a decent citizen. He finds himself pursued by Javert (Russell Crowe), a ruthless policemen who was one of the guards at the prison where Jean Valjean was kept.
Spanning 10 years, the film shows how Jean Valjean makes a horrible mistake while trying to hide in plain sight from Javert, allowing the foremen at his factory to fire Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a lovely young woman who’s hated by her co-workers for being so attractive. Desperate to support her daughter, Fantine becomes a lady of the night and after almost getting arrested by Javert, meets Jean Valjean and tells him how he has ruined her and subsequently her daughter’s lives. Determined to right this terrible wrong, Jean Valjean tells the now dying Fantine he will look after and care for her daughter Cosette. But his promise becomes extremely complicated when Javert realizes that the alias Jean has been using is fake and both Jean and Cosette are forced to go on the run.
Jumping ahead eight years, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) is now a proper young lady still unaware that her surrogate father is a criminal in hiding. She’s fallen head over heels for a young student named Marius (Eddie Redmayne) who has joined a rebellion against the current government of France. Trying to keep Cosette safe, Jean Valjean once again finds himself avoiding Javert who’s in charge of stopping the rebellion.
Les Miserables is a loud, musical, dramatic adventure which has two great stand-out performances. Anne Hathaway delivers the best performance of her career as Fantine, the desperate, hopeless, doomed young single mother life seems determined to destroy. She captures all the heartbreak and sorrow Fantine feels. She also does a wonderful job singing one of the best songs in the film: “I Dreamed a Dream”. She deserves an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress and will most likely get it. Samantha Barks, whose known on the stage for her performance in the musical, steals every scene she’s in as Eponine, the daughter of the corrupt innkeepers who’s hopelessly in love with Marius who in turn only has eyes for Cosette. She’s an absolute natural on film and her rendition of the song “On My Own” is a show-stopper.
Hugh Jackman delivers a solid performance as Jean Valjean but doesn’t have the vocal range needed for the more powerful songs in the musical. This is never more evident than when he attempts to sing “Bring Him Home” and comes up short. Still, he is a believable Jean Valjean.
Not faring so well is Russell Crowe, terribly miscast as the obsessed, vicious policeman Javert. Not only can he not sing a note but he never really delivers in his performance. He never shows any real feeling of hatred and compulsion to capture Jean Valjean. It’s key that the audience understand that without following through with the law Javert cannot exist. He must obey the law or die. Therefore to constantly keep coming into contact with an escaped fugitive who he keeps failing to capture, Crowe needs to show how this is eating away at Javert and sadly he doesn’t pull it off.
The costumes and sets are all extremely effective in bringing 19th century France back to life on the big screen and the film’s cinematography is beautiful.
Lavish and epic, Les Miserables is a sweeping, wonderfully-acted movie musical which will entertain fans of the Broadway version and hopefully have film fans intrigued to go and seek out the original and far superior 1935 film version of the story starring Frederic March and Charles Laughton.
Les Miserables opens in theaters on December 25, 2012 and is rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.
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