LES MISERABLES (2012)
In early 19th century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is at the end of his 19 years in a brutal Toulon prison after stealing a loaf of bread and attempts to escape. On his release under the austere eye of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), the desperate Valjean is destitute and hungry; he is given food and shelter by the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson) - and when Valjean steals the silver he is caught by Javert - but the priest pretends to have given the silver away, an act of forgiveness that changes the course of Valjean's life. He slips out of his parole - and some years later, he is the respected mayor of the poor town of Vigau, transforming it into a thriving community, caring for its people and workers, as the benevolent, generous owner of a factory. Fantine (Anne Hathaway), is one of his employees, fired by the manager when he discovers the unmarried Fantine has a child. Fantine falls ill, and Valjean does his best to bring her back to health - with little success. When she is dying, he promises to take care of her little daughter, Cosette. Still hunted for breaking his parole by Javert, Valjean makes a new life for himself and the now teenage Cosette (Amanda Sayfried), who falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young Parisian revolutionary. But all the time, Javert is never far behind.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Victor Hugo's 1862 novel was - and remains - a stirring and heartfelt plea for decency, justice, personal freedoms and human rights. He was an idealist and he made Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), the hero of Les Miserables, something of a saint - as the revolutionary young Marius (Eddie Redmayne) proclaims in the latter part of this powerful and moving film.
Valjean's extraordinary journey has been told on screen before, most recently in 1998, when Bille August directed Rafael Yglesias' adaptation, with Liam Neeson as Valjean and Geoffrey Rush as Javert.
But that was not a musical - and you could argue that neither is this, it's more of an opera, and rightly so, given the operatic scale of the themes encompassed within the work, from redemption to revolution, from sacrifice to salvation, from hate to love. [Like an opera, songs (arias) are connected by dialogue that is sung (recitative).]
Music - especially music as good as this, thanks Claude-Michel Schönberg - has the power to inject us with feelings and moods that come from our psyche and are not restrained by words. To harness that power to the max, director Tom Hooper made the creative decision to film the performances with the actors actually singing - on camera, while they were performing, not overlay the scenes with studio recorded sound. The purpose was to heighten the performance element, to convey the emotions more truthfully, more powerfully, more effectively. It works.
Having a cast of superb actors was more important to Hooper than casting a team of great singers; but make no mistake, there isn't a second grade singer among them. Surprises include Eddie Redmayne as Marius, who breaks our hearts, as does Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, his love, a superb duo; Samantha Barks is astonishing as Eponine, whose love for Marius is unrequited. She'll break your heart, too, with both her physical and vocal performance.
Hugh Jackman's ability as a singer and actor is no surprise: he's the real 'triple threat' - can sing, can dance, can act. He gives his all as Valjean, and he does so in extreme close ups which are a signature of the film's intimate approach. There's no faking it for anyone here, every emotion, every sound has to be truth or the camera will pick it up and we will see if it's 'pretend'.
Russell Crowe has plenty of screen authority and he gives Javert the required steely resolve that is shattering when it comes undone and Anne Hathaway gives Fantine a big heart, a big soul and big emotional impact.
Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are Mrs and Mrs Thenardier, the pick pocket king and queen of the Paris streets, whose role is to provide some light relief. Their dramatic relevance is that they were the paid carers for little Cosette (Isabelle Allen - whose face adorns the posters) when Fantine was working. All the smaller support roles are exceptional, from the kids to the oldies, from the sex workers to the soldiers.
The cinematography and production design add visual pleasure and satisfaction to the aural and the editing is exceptional.
For those who haven't experienced Les Miserables in any form, this is a searing and unforgettable experience. For those familiar with it, this is a large scale cinematic adaptation. The story is set on the stage of the French revolutionary struggle (the unsuccessful June Rebellion in 1832), yet it is told through unique and well drawn characters whose intimate lives become familiar to us - and therefore we care. Of course it's not naturalistic in the strictest sense, but it is entirely authentic where it matters: the heart.
This story endures because its messages nourish our deepest human needs. This film will endure because it nurtures those messages.
Review by Louise Keller:
An emotional tour de force, this landmark adaptation of the 1987 Tony-award winning musical delivers everything at its creative peak - drama, performance, filmmaking and the language of music that delivers its message in a way like no other. In the hands of Tom Hooper, Oscar-winning director of The King's Speech, all the elements are managed in perfect harmony - it's as though Hooper is steering a massive ship through tumultuous seas, carefully tempering the journey by controlling the ups and downs on a sliding scale; power to understated nuance.
As a result, Victor Hugo's 1862 story about 19th Century France (in a screenplay by William Nicholson) decisively transmits the towering themes of redemption, honour, love, courage and freedom. The issues are large and small: the plight of one man and that of a whole nation. The camera takes us up very close - so close that we feel as though we know not only the characters, but what is in their souls. The fact that the performers sing live (instead of the usual synched pre-record) allows the real emotion of the performance to be married to the drama. The film's power is overwhelming.
This is the role of Hugh Jackman's life, the one that allows him to utilise everything in his arsenal - from his singing voice to his dramatic prowess, physical strength and absolute decency. Jackman has never been better - he delivers with passion and conviction. His Valjean is everyman - and as fallible as anyone. Yet he shows his strength of character and goodness by his actions. Even the crime for which he was enslaved (to steal a loaf of bread) was for another's benefit. His vow to become an honest man, from the unexpected actions of a kindly priest, propels him onto a road that brings him the rewards he could never have imagined.
Anne Hathaway embodies the tragic Fantine with heartbreak and soul, making every moment on screen count. Having lost everything, even her pride, her rendition of I Dreamed A Dream is filled with such pathos, the emotion in her voice compounding the devastation in her eyes. Hathaway and Jackman are good together.
As the third pivotal character, Inspector Javert, Russell Crowe has gravitas and presence, although I occasionally wished for greater vocal power. Javert's complexity is well described - from his obsession to hunt down Valjean (prisoner 24601) at any cost, to his confusion when Valjean graces him with his forgiveness.
Amanda Seyfried (singing like an angel) is a beautiful Cosette, the daughter Fantine loves so desperately, depicting the essence of innocence, while Eddie Redmayne is a great surprise as Marius, the revolutionary who falls in love with her at first glance. Who knew he can sing? In her first film role Samantha Barks breaks our hearts as Éponine, whose rendition of 'On My Own' in the rain as she declares her unrequited love for Marius, is another musical high point.
Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are the vulgar, greedy innkeepers (like Court Jesters) in a stroke of casting inspiration, offering comedy relief without destroying the tension. Their Master of the House routine is a riot. But every single piece of casting is superb, as is the production design and production elements.
There is much to say about this film and about the impact it conveys. Those who have seen the musical and/or are familiar with the music will have an idea of what is in store. If you are new to the story, the experience will be equally moving. For me - having seen the stage show multiple times as well as other film productions, this film is what cinema, music and theatre is all about. The music and lyrics by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil are that of a masterpiece and you will be humming those memorable tunes as you walk out of the cinema. I was a blubbering mess by the time it was finished. Les Miserables will knock your socks off.
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HUGH & RUSS - Two sides of the Aussie coin
TIM BEVAN & ERIC FELLNER INTERVIEW
LES MISERABLES (2012) (M)
CAST: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Isabelle Allen, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Barks, Colm Wilkinson
PRODUCER: Cameron Mackintoch, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward
DIRECTOR: Tom Hooper
SCRIPT: William Nicholson (screenplay) Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil (book), Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics), James Fenton (additional text), (novel by Victor Hugo)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Danny Cohen
EDITOR: Chris Dickens
MUSIC: Claude-Michel Schönberg (non-original music)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Eve Stewart
RUNNING TIME: 152 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2012