Les Misérables Movie Review
Kidzworld reviews the big musical film Les Misérables
By: Lynn Barker
Life in France in the mid-1800’s is pretty unpleasant for all except the really rich (yeah, what’s new, right?). In the famous musical “Les Misérables”, this angst is expressed in song. Now you can watch it all go down on the big screen with stars Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and Amanda Seyfried.
The Price of Freedom
Peasant Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released from prison after 19 years for stealing bread for his family and for many escape attempts. Bitter, he steals silver from a holy man who tells the cops that he gave it to him. In return for his freedom, Valjean must make an honest man of himself. Later, Valjean still steals a coin and is reported. Now, he’s a wanted man again. In time, he becomes Monsieur Madeleine, a rich factory owner and town mayor. Javert (Russell Crowe) one of the guards at the prison determined to bring him in, recognizes Mayor “Madeleine” when he lifts a cart off a dying man. Valjean had that kind of strength.
Years earlier in Paris, a working class girl named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is abandoned by her boyfriend. She has a daughter Cosette (later played by Amanda Seyfried) that she has to board with corrupt innkeepers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen) who exploit her as forced labor. Fantine works at Mr. Madeleine’s factory but is fired when they discover she has a daughter and isn’t married. First she sells her hair and some of her teeth to pay for Cosette’s board but gradually has to become a streetwalker to make ends meet.
Valjean Steps In, the Hero
Feeling badly that Fantine was fired from his factory, he takes the now dying woman to a hospital and vows to find Cosette and bring her to her mom. A man is accused of being the wanted criminal Jean Valjean. The real Valjean does the right thing, going to court to admit he, not the innocent man is Valjean. Fantine dies before seeing her daughter again.
Fooling Javert again, Valjean, a free man, finds little Cosette and sees how she is abused by the innkeepers who pay more kindly attention to their daughter Eponine (Samantha Barks). Valjean has to “buy” Cosette from the evil innkeepers. All is peaceful but Javert is still after Valjean even after Cosette grows up.
Marius and Cosette
Marius (Eddie Redmayne) is one of the students who join the poor to rise up against the upper class French government. He spots pretty Cosette and falls hard! Meanwhile, the innkeepers’ daughter Eponine is poor and befriended by Marius. She loves him so she reluctantly helps him find Cosette’s address. He and Cosette then finally meet and declare their love for one another but, worried about Javert, Valjean wants to move with Cosette to England. Bummer for Marius!
Marius fears Cosette has left town. His friends have formed a barricade and are ready to fight government troops and he joins them. We see that Javert is there as a spy. Eponine, wanting to be close to Marius, dresses as a man and takes a bullet for him! She dies in his arms after giving him a note from Cosette that she had been keeping from him. Realizing that Cosette really loves Marius, Valjean goes to the barricade to find him, finds Javert the spy and pretends to kill him while really letting him go free. Marius is shot and Valjean carries him, unconscious, to safety through the sewers.
Darn it! Ungrateful Javert is waiting when Valjean comes out of the sewers with Marius. Valjean begs Javert to let him take Marius to safety then he’ll turn himself in. Realizing that Valjean has saved his life when he could have shot him, Javert, always true to the letter of the law, can’t take the inner conflict and kills himself.
Marius and Cosette are married. Valjean, who is dying, admits to Marius that he is a criminal. Marius is freaked but finally learns of all the good Valjean has done and that it was he who saved him when he was shot. All is forgiven as Fantine’s “ghost” reunites with the finally at peace Valjean.
Les Misérables, the movie is beautiful yet stark and sometimes shocking to look at. We should warn you that many of the scenes in the film are violent, some heartbreaking. The movie is also very long but the many musical numbers make the time go faster.
You might identify with some of the characters. Themes are relevant to our world today…poor versus rich, rebellions against evil governments and the timeless perils of broken dreams, passions and one-sided love. It’s a story of sacrifice and redemption and is a tribute to the survival of the human spirit against all odds.
It is the presentation of the story that didn’t always entertain me. The director Tom Hooper has chosen to present the movie more like an operetta where even trivial dialogue is sung rather than spoken (like in a musical). I would rather hear some spoken dialogue leading up to the famous songs from the stage musical. I could also do with fewer big close-ups of the actors as well.
Also, there are so many tears and emotional scenes in the film that actors sing through that emotion; through tears, sniffles, rain etc. so that many of the familiar songs you are waiting for are almost spoken rather than sung full out. There are exceptions; Eddie Redmayne does a great job of singing through his tears as does Samantha Bark playing Eponine. Hugh Jackman does an amazing job playing Valjean and with singing “Bring Him Home”.
I realize how effective Anne Hathaway’s desperate, broken-voiced rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is but I’d rather hear it sung out as in the musical! You may feel differently. For comic relief you do have Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the evil, thieving innkeepers and they are refreshingly funny whenever on screen.
Overall, if you know the musical, love the story, the characters and the songs, they are all there and presented with passion by the entire cast. You will need to bring some tissues. If you don’t really know the story and aren’t up for lots of downer events with a few bright spots in a film, or you just don’t like musicals then, of course, Les Misérables isn’t for you. Although Hugh and Anne’s performances are Oscar-worthy, overall, we have to go 3 stars.
Les Misérables Movie Rating: