Monday, December 31, 2012

REVIEW: Les Misérables

Les Misérables

Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe


December 25, 2012

Tom Hooper

Universal Pictures

2 hours 38 minutes



As someone who wasn't expecting a whole lot with the big screen adaptation of the musical 'Les Misérables,' I have to tell you that I loved the living hell out of this movie.  This is director Tom Hooper's follow-up to the 2010 Best Picture winner 'The King's Speech,' which had a miniscule budget compared to the amount of money that went into this film.  Hooper wanted to do something different with this musical and that was to have the actors performing the songs live on camera rather than record the songs in a studio and come back two months later to lip-sync over the recordings, which is the first time a film had that done entirely.  That was such a smart decision because this gave the actors a chance to act while they were singing, and use the lyrics to express their physical and mental emotions as well as carry an incredible tune.  'Les Misérables' from start to finish is an enchanting, intense, and beautiful musical that will strike a chord with audiences everywhere if they can handle 5% of the film being dialogue while the rest of it is singing.

In the early 1800s, a man named Jean Valjean makes and breaks parole after being arrested and imprisoned for 19 years after trying to steal food for his nephew.  After claiming a new identity, the past begins to come back to haunt him just as things seem to be going Jean's way.  At the same time, a poor woman named Fantine is in critical condition after doing all she can to support her young child Cosette.  Seeing the world as an honest and kind person, Valjean agrees to take care of Cosette despite the fact that she would never be able to know of Jean's true identity and tragic past.  Did I forget to mention that the French Revolution was just around the corner?

It's easy to say a movie is well-acted when it's just actors yelling a lot and giving motivational speeches.  It's another thing to say when an actor delivers a great performance because of something that isn't just yelling and telling motivational speeches.  That is the case with the acting in 'Les Mis.'  Hugh Jackman is marvelous as Jean Valjean.  In every note he sings throughout the film, emotion pours out effectively and captivates any audience member who's watching or listening.  Anne Hathaway helps to get people to shed tears during her performance of 'I Dreamed A Dream,' which alone could win her an Oscar for her small role as Fantine.  Russell Crowe is great in the movie, though it is understandable how some may feel he's "miscast" for the role of Javert since people aren't used to hearing Crowe singing.  I personally thought he wasn't bad and did a fine job for what he could do.  The rest of the cast have pretty small roles, but everyone in those small roles, especially Samantha Barks and all of the little kids in the movie, were fantastic, and all did an incredible job in this film.

In my opinion, the best thing about the film was the directing job by Tom Hooper.  His decision to have the actors sing live on camera not only was a genius idea, but it also gave the actors freedom to add a depth of emotion to their characters while they're singing.  The added emotional impact from the live singing worked perfectly, making the audience feel what the characters were feeling during any moment in the film.  The fact that the music is good in the film just adds to the emotional impact.  Good isn't even the best word to describe the music in this film, because it was absolutely incredible.  Every song is catchy in its own way and helps carry the story along in a smooth yet visceral way.  I actually think that this film has the best musical soundtrack since 'Hairspray,' and that's coming from someone who has the 'Rock of Ages' soundtrack on his iPod.  I can't wait to get this soundtrack, or at least some of the more memorable tracks to listen to for days to come.

I am still shocked at how much I loved 'Les Misérables.'  The film has wonderful acting, the best musical soundtrack I've heard in years, and a sublime directing job from Tom Hooper.  I think that this film is miles better than 'The King's Speech,' and I loved that movie when I first saw it.  This is a movie that you'll either love or you'll hate.  It just depends on whether or not you A.) have seen the musical, B.) enjoy musicals, and/or C.) can bear 2 and a half hours of nothing but singing.  If you have seen the musical and don't like this film as much, that's understandable.  My mother, who has seen the original London Broadway cast live, enjoys the show and the movie equally.  I trust my mother on that, which makes me want to see the show so much more.  'Les Misérables' is not a happy movie for the most part.  It is though a compelling, enchanting, and magnificent movie musical that is easily one of the best movies of 2012.  Musicals can't get more engrossing than this one.


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