Published on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 by Emma Raleigh
I dreamed a dream that when one of the world’s most famous musicals came to the big screen, I would be blown away. I feel guilty for not loving the Golden Globe winning, critically acclaimed Les Miserables as much as everyone else, but it didn’t impress me much. Of course the cinematography and star studded cast were phenomenal, but for me, the story itself was problematic.
French writer Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables in 1862, and he intended to touch on social justice, moral philosophy, love, and the nature of law throughout the history of France. Several of the most famous parts and characters of the story actually came from real people and experiences. The story has been a favorite for generations, and was brought to life on Broadway in October of 1985. Here, it got the nickname “Les Mis”. Film adaptations have included the non-musical drama made in 1998 by director Billie August, and of course the hyped up version that premiered Christmas day, 2012.
Advertised in heavily emotional commercials, Les Mis caught the eye of musical lovers and teenage girls alike. Fitting into both of these demographics, I was excited to see the film. Only somewhat familiar with the plot, I went into the theater with the only thing I knew I would need: tissues.
The first thing you learn is that a poor convict, prisoner 24601 played by Hugh Jackman, has been in chains for about 20 years, all for stealing a solitary piece of bread. Don’t forget that detail, it is very important. 24601 is reminded by the stringent police officer Javert, portrayed by Russell Crow, that he attempted to escape many times, therefore prolonging his sentence. Crow’s character did garner a lot of audience support, but the fact that he was out to get Valjean caused me to dislike him, not to mention his voice was not really made for Broadway. Our hero is soon released and we learn his name is Jean Valjean. He vows to start a new life, and breaks his parole. After this, Javert is constantly hunting down Valjean in order to enforce the law. This is where the story finally starts to gain momentum. This was one of the main issues I found with the movie: the first few scenes seem to last as long as Valjean’s jail time, and I didn’t even steal any bread, but as soon as Anne Hathaway’s character Fantine was introduced eight years later, all was well.
Fantine is a poor woman who sends all her earnings to her young daughter Cosette, who works and lives with the con artist owners of an inn, the Thénardiers. Fantine is loving and passionate, and will do absolutely anything for Cosette, and Hathaway does a brilliant job of playing this part, and one of my favorites even though she had limited screentime. After losing her factory job, Fantine is forced to become a prostitute, as money is extremely hard to come by. She sells her hair and her teeth, and becomes sick and lonely, which is unfortunate for her, but so wonderful for the audience. In her darkest hour, Fantine sings “I Dreamed a Dream”, easily one of the best Broadway songs of all time. Hathaway exudes pure loss and pain through the lyrics of the song, and I was left in awe when it ended. In my opinion, this was the high point of the film because Hathaway made the audience feel Fantine’s suffering, making her worthy of her Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress. Plus, her voice was amazing. Valjean saves Fantine from getting in trouble with the law, and as she looms at death’s door, he promises to care for Cosette as if she were his own.
Valjean is about to retrieve Cosette from the Thénardiers so she can live with him when one of the best scenes of the movie ensues. The Thénardier couple is played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, two highly acclaimed and hilarious actors. Chaos is everywhere in their inn, and tastes of comedy find their way in this otherwise serious movie. From here, the movie progresses quickly as Cosette and Valjean must quickly escape the police.
Valjean’s portrayal by Jackman gave me mixed feelings. His performance was on point emotionally, and he convincingly played a caring father, but his voice did not appeal to me. This is an issue, because he is the main character and I only counted about three spoken–not sung–sentences throughout the movie. However, his kindness and love for the young Cosette made up for this.
Nearing the end of the movie, the audience is introduced to the teenage Cosette played by Amanda Seyfried and her attractive beau, Marius. Marius played by Eddie Redmayne is part of a revolutionary group wanting to rebel against the French government, and a revolt is brewing. Cosette and Marius are both well-off with perfect hair and perfect voices, and I don’t know about everyone else, but the couple sickened to me. Marius locks eyes with Cosette once in the streets, and they immediately think they’re destined to be together. I found this new found love unconvincing, but one love that was convincing was Eponine’s unshared love for Marius. The extremely heart wrenching rendition of “On My Own” by Samantha Barks was one of the best parts of the movie.
There is a battle in the streets of Paris including the iconic chair and armoire-laden barricade in which practically everyone dies, except for the wealthy. The movie ends with the entire cast of the movie who has passed away either in battle, sickness, or otherwise singing an emotionally charged song. The end of the movie was both the best and the worst, because it tied the movie together, but it left the entire theater in tears. Overall, I enjoyed the acting and some parts of Les Mis. I would see it again, but the unfortunate message that has made the story so popular, one that the rich will always prevail over the poor did not sit well with me.