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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Les Miserables Review. The Film Is A Grand Achievement

Les Miserables Review
By: MattInRC

Les Miserables is a solid, thought-provoking, and powerful musical that deserves some Oscar street cred.

Growing up in a home where musicals mixed with opera, classical music, and even Scott Joplin to create the soundtrack of my early youth, it's no wonder why I'm such a film and music diva. When you're surrounded by Pavarotti and Arthur Fiedler, and your Spring Saturdays are spent enjoying live productions of Madame Butterfly, your expectations will undoubtedly morph into a discerning eye that can smell a ratty director or musician of the modern era a mile away. Les Miserables is definitely not one of those kinds of films; it's defiant, utterly shameless in its bombasity, and filled to the gills with some of the best singing performances by Hollywood actors in a long while.

Based on the 1862 book by Victor Hugo, our central hero Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman, X-Men series) is at first an emaciated figure fresh out of prison for stealing bread. Worn, ragged, and desperate for direction, he breaks parole and is hunted by the ruthless Inspector Javert (Russel Crowe, Master & Commander), who commanded the shipyard prisoners where he first meets Valjean. The two will cross paths frequently over the next two decades, as Javert's single-minded pursuit leads both down the path to a final battle near film's end. Taken in by a kind priest, Valjean reforms into a model citizen, a wealthy mayor, and owner of a factory. It's here where Fantine (Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises) struggles to make ends meet so that her daughter Cosette (later played by Amanda Seyfried, In Time) can grow up to live a normal life. But when Fantine is fired, turns to prostitution, and later dies, Valjean takes Cosette in, rescuing her from the clutches of the evil boarding house operators Thenardier (Sasha Baron-Cohen, Madagascar series) and his Madame (Helena Bonham-Carter, Harry Potter series). As the film shifts to the violent student revolt after the death of the French king, Valjean and Javert square off one last time, with one ready to forgive and the other unwilling to forget.

For anyone wanting to take their children to Les Mis, note that Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) has crafted a decidedly dark and violent tale. From the tragic raping and death of Fantine, to the disturbing putdown of the student revolt, some might consider it too much especially for young viewers. But if they and you can get over the violence, you're in for a treat. From the moment this 157-minute masterpiece opens on the rainy, wind-swept ship dock, you know what sort of scale Hooper's intending to employ. Tight camera angles of our actors persist, but it only helps to lend a heightened sense of realism to things, as if Valjean's plight mirrors that of the French people who will soon break out into anarchy.

Some have claimed that Hooper's tight angles are distracting, but I disagree, nor did I worry about our actors lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks. This is standard issue for a musical, and Hooper encourages his actors to let it all hang out, utilizing every inch of their facial features, as if they will serve the story as much as their singing. As a result, so many scenes take on a life of their own, such as Valjean's angry retort to God in the church and Fantine's decision to enter prostitution. Hathaway's deep set eyes share both the innocence lost and the innocence still burning bright without ever going over the top. Seyfried moves with a grace and precision befitting a rising Hollywood star, employing her elegant voice in a way that seems to make everyone's surprisingly better. And while Crowe's strained vocals might put off some, it's this sort of honesty by Hooper that pervades the entire film. In his bold decision to cast Crowe, Hooper expresses his desire to let great actors sing, giving the film exactly what it needed. Crowe's deep intensity brings a dark cloud to every scene in which he appears, making the climatic faceoff near film's end even that more convincing. He is one of the greatest actors of our generation, and Les Mis suits him very well. But it's the performances of Jackman, Seyfried, and Hathaway which will probably garner Oscar nominations, for each steps into their roles with a power that's fitting for a production of this grandeur.

Considering the rough road the film took to completion, it's amazing that it ever got off the ground. Good for us, because fans will absolutely love it. How duds like That's My Boy or The Campaign get could produced while Les Mis might be allowed to rot is beyond me.

Les Miserables is a grand achievement which ups the ante for musicals. It's not for everyone, which is one reason why it might not completely dominate the Oscars. That doesn't mean you shouldn't see it - Les Mis is gritty, emotionally-charged, and closes the argument forever that a great cast of actors who can sing will yield a better product than employing great but unknown Broadway singers. Catch Les Mis on the big screen, as its majesty is best witnessed there. It's got Oscar written all over it. Les Miserables is rated a surprising PG-13 and comes highly recommended.

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