Saturday, December 22, 2012

Les Miserables


My parents got pre-screening tickets to see this movie a few days ago, and I was a little hesitant to see it. Not that I didn't want to watch the movie at all, but I knew Lara wouldn't be able to come as she had to work that night. On the other hand, if I didn't go I wouldn't be able to see it with Lara until Christmas Day. Though I initially felt bad about going without her, I couldn't resist seeing the movie that nearly brought me to tears just from the teaser trailer. I've never seen the play, and what I know of the story I have gleaned from the lyrics of songs I've heard. As this was my first experience with the tale of Jean Valjean, I have no baggage from previous incarnations or performances.

For those who don't know the basic story, it begins with Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in prison and pulling a massive ship into the bay with a multitude of other prisoners as Javert (Russell Crowe) looks on from above. He proceeds to inform Valjean that he is being released on parole, but that he will be watching to see if "24601" ever slips up again. Valjean leaves the prison but is unable to find work or even a place to stay before he is invited in by a priest, who goes so far as to give Jean Valjean his silver after he is caught stealing it by the guards. The priest gives Valjean even more than he attempted to steal with the sole condition that he use the money to become an honest man.

I won't go any further into the plot for those who want to avoid spoilers. Being a big movie fan, I've followed this project since it was first announced and was excited to see Hugh Jackman in the starring role. As the cast continued to fill out, however, I soon realized this was going to be something really special. Thankfully, this early realization was confirmed on Tuesday night as I saw one of the best films of the year. Les Miserables is a tremendous feat, a beautifully orchestrated masterpiece that honors the source material of the play and the book. The cast is uniformly fantastic, particularly Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who plays the tragic character of Fantine. Both are front-runners to be nominated for Academy Awards in their respective categories and I wouldn't mind seeing them both win. Even Russell Crowe, the wildcard in the bunch for me, portrays a dangerous and slightly unhinged inspector that feels like a suitable foe for Hugh Jackman.

There are so many flourishes of foreshadowing in the screenplay, facial expressions that completely sell the emotion of a song, as well as large-scale set pieces that really transport you into the French revolution that move this film from great to masterful. It can be somewhat hard to watch at certain points, namely the section where Fantine is thrown out into the street and falls into prostitution to care for her daughter; but it sets the stage perfectly for the emotional and spiritual journey each character will take, particularly Valjean. I can't count the number of times I teared up during this film, and the expression of humanity and grace depicted in the songs and actions of the characters make me want to be a better person. This is not just wonderful music, but the story itself is so iconic and poignant that I don't see how it would be possible not to be moved in some way by what unfolds.

Les Miserables is one of the best films of the year, and director Tom Hooper does a fantastic job of melding together the terrific production designs with the choreography and action while still allowing for the actors to express emotions that other directors might not be willing to attempt. It's fairly well known that this film, unlike other musicals adapted to the big screen, shot the actors singing live into the camera rather than recording the songs beforehand in a studio. It's this kind of organic quality that allows viewers to really experience the situations the characters find themselves in where other musicals have barricaded themselves from the audience forcing them to merely observe from a distance. This is a phenomenal achievement and I give Les Miserables a strong four stars.

LES MISERABLES is rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements.