Thursday Night Movie Club
Les Miserables
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Release Date: 25 December 2012

Director: Tom Hooper
Hugh Jackman
Russell Crowe
Anne Hathaway
Amanda Seyfried
Isabelle Allen
Samantha Barks
Natalya Angel Wallace
Sacha Baron Cohen
Helena Bonham Carter
Eddie Redmayne
Aaron Tveit
Samantha Barks
Daniel Huttlestone
Cavin Cornwall
Josef Altin
Dave Hawley
Adam Jones
John Barr
Jean Valjean
Young Cosette
Young Éponine
Madame Thénardier
Convict 1
Convict 2
Convict 3
Convict 4
Convict 5
Les Miserables movie poster 1 Les Miserables movie poster 2 Les Miserables movie poster 3
Hugh Jackman and Isabelle Allen as the young Cozette in Les MiserablesLes Miserables is a great film. The cinematography is spectacular. The set design is amazing. The biggest surprise are all of the actors who sing their roles. This film version of Les Miserables, while based on the novel by Victor Hugo, is mainly based on the popular stage musical.

None of the actors in the film have extensive singing experience. Hugh Jackman and Samantha Barks are the only talented singers. Anne Hathaway, Russel Crowe, Helena Bonham-Carter, Sasha Baron Cohen, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne are all surprisingly good and very effective in their various roles.

In 19th Century France, the rich get richer and no one gives a damn about the poor. The poor are in for a long, hard life. If they are lucky, they won't live long enough for their lives to be too hard. Into this world comes Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). He is a prisoner on a chain gang fighting desperately against the elements to drag a sailing vessel into dry dock.

Russel Crowe as Javert in Les MiserablesThe prisoners know their lives are worse than being a slave. They are resigned to their fate: They are standing in their graves. None of them will live long enough to see freedom. Always look down. Prisoners do not have the right to look the priviledged in the eye.

Looking down on the prisoners is Javert (Russel Crowe), a life-long soldier and Enforcer of the Law. Javert sees the world in absolutes: Light, Dark, Right, Wrong. There is no middle ground. If someone has the gall to break the law, Javert will hunt him to the ends of the Earth for the sake of justice.

Jean Valjean's life turns from worse to even more worse... if there is such a thing. He is paroled. In prison he had food and shelter. It wasn't much. But Valjean soon learns the outside world is even crueler. As a parole, Valjean cannot find employment. Without a job, there is no food or lodgings. He repays the kindness of a priest by stealing the parishes' silver. Valjean is captured and returned to the priest. If Valjean thought his life was nothing but turmoil before, he is now in for the shock of his life. The priest sets Valjean free and even gives him two additional silver candlesticks.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in Les MiserablesHugh Jackman starts off the long parade of touching, heart-felt, and emotional musical set-pieces. In this singular moment, the brilliance of Director Tom Hooper, Cinematographer Danny Cohen and Production Design by Eve Stewart shine through. As Jackman sings of Valjean torn between the kindness of a stranger and the uncaring of strangers who looked the other way as Valjean's sister and nephew died from starvation, Jackman turns to and away from God. The camera follows his every move. The set must be constructed to be filmed from all angles to accomodate the actor's performances. And this is only the beginning.

The title Les Miserables tells the whole story. Just in case you are wondering, here is a hint: No good deed goes unpunished. Everyone in this story is damned, one way or another. Anne Hathaway gives a most poignant turn as Fantine. As a young woman, she found love. Once she became pregnant, her man abandoned her and her infant Cozette. Now she struggles to keep her child's existence a secret. Children born out of wedlock are frowned upon, and that is putting it mildly. Hathaway's solo recapping Fantine's struggles and her child's uncertain future is nothing short of spellbinding.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les MiserablesJavert is damned by his unbending honor towards his duty. He doesn't write the laws. He does not judge people. He arrests those who break the law. Plain and simple. Committing a crime is wrong. Personal motivation for purpetrating the crime is immaterial. Everytime he confronts Valjean for breaking parole, Valjean gives Javert some "flimsy" excuse that he needs some time in order to help out someone less fortunate. Valjean even saves Javert from certain death. Valjean forgives Javert. He knows Javert was only performing his duty. No hard feelings. Javert cannot reconcile the gray area Valjean now inhabits.

Another musical number highlighting the brilliance of staging Les Miserables is the duet from innkeepers Thénardier (Sasha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thénardier (Helena Bonham-Carter). While the two actors are singing their parts and interacting with the customers, the two are fleecing the customers. They take everything from money, to wallets, to glasses, to false teeth and anything else of even the slightest value. Cohen and Bonham-Carter are so smooth with their pickpocketing techniques that many of their grabs go unnoticed. The staging, cinematography, camera work and the talents of the actors result in another amazing musical number.

Students plot to overthrow the ruling class in Les MiserablesComplicating matters is a group of idealistic students. They are all the sons of the ruling elite. They are also smart enough to realize that their comfy lives are on borrowed time. Sooner or later, the downtrodden people of France will rise up. The students know that they will be better served by starting the revolution rather than being on the inevitable losing side.

Rounding out the complicated story is the love triangle between Cozette (Amanda Seyfried), Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Eponine (Samantha Barks). Young Cozette was living with the Thénardier's. Their daughter is Eponine. Now young adults, the two girl's paths cross in Paris. Eponine is secretly in love with Marius. Marius sees Eponine as a good friend. Marius discovers love at first sight when he feeling is mutual.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne in Les MiserablesAll of the story elements come together in the signature song "One More Day". Valjean fears that Javert has found him again and plans to flee with Cozette to England. Cozette and Marius are in love and do not want to be parted. Eponine finally realizes Marius will never love her. Eponine had a better childhood but now finds her role reversed with Cozette. Javert knows a revolution is coming but he is confident that the rebellion will be easily crushed. The stories/songs intermingle and harmonize as the film cuts between the characters and locations. Amazing anyone can pull off such complicated staging. Director Hooper succeeds on all levels.

Les Miserables is not a typical stage musical. This is an opera. Every audible line is sung, not spoken. Like watching a Shakespeare play, Les Miserables takes just a small bit of time to understand the language of the film. Once that barrier is breached, Les Miserables becomes an amazing, beautiful, ugly, poignant, depressing, loving, dangerous, dirty and a very tender motion picture. There won't be a dry eye in the house during the final number. Les Miserables demonstrates a simple truth: given time and patience, Love Will Out!

Leave all prejudices against opera and musical theater at the door. Sit back, relax and let the magic and splendor of Les Miserables take you to another time and another place. Enjoy!