“Les Miserables” an Innovative Approach to Movie Musical
By Skip Sheffield
Three major motion pictures will be in theaters by Christmas Day Dec. 25. All three are included on the top ten lists of most professional critic groups.
The most eagerly-awaited is the screen adaptation of the stage musical “Les Miserables” by British director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”).
Hooper had the inspired idea of having his actors sing their lines live with just a single piano as accompaniment. The lush orchestrations would be overdubbed later.
This works brilliantly for the most part, as all the dialogue is sung and actors are better able to emote naturally.
“Les Miserables” has a long and illustrious history, starting with the 1862 publication of the novel by French writer Victor Hugo. For our purposes we will stick with the film, which is based on the stage musical that debuted in
in 1985 and is running to this day.
There is a reason for the title. This is not a cheerful or joyous story, but one of injustice, struggle, rebellion, revenge and redemption.
Jean Valjean (Broadway and movie star Hugh Jackman) is a victim of injustice at an early age. He was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving sister and children and sentenced to five years in prison. Headstrong and extraordinarily physically strong, Valjean escaped from prison repeatedly, which stretched out his sentence to 19 years.
When he is finally paroled by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), Valjean promptly breaks parole by stealing silver candlesticks from a kindly Bishop (Colm Wilkinson) who gives him shelter.
In court the Bishop not only lies to protect Valjean, he gives him more silver. For the first time Valjean realizes the power of forgiveness and renewal. He assumes a new identity and becomes the prosperous owner of a factory and Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. When Valjean performs a feat of strength to save another man, Javert realizes the Mayor has a familiar face: that of the man who broke parole.
So begins a tale of pursuit that continues to the end of the 156-minute film, played against the love story of Valjean’s devotion to tragic factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who is unjustly fired from her job and forced into prostitution, degradation and death.
It is Hathaway’s searing performance that garners the most acclaim. Surely she will be remembered at Oscar time as one of the greatest actresses (and singers) of her generation.
Fantine has an illegitimate daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), who has been taken in by two comically disreputable innkeepers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen), who treat her like a slave while they dote on their daughter Eponine (Samatha Barks from the 25th anniversary production).
Valjean buys Cosette’s freedom for 1,500 Francs and becomes her guardian. Cosette falls for fiery, rebellious student Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who is involved in the bloody June Rebellion of 1832.
Redmayne is a revelation as a singer. His character inspires Valjean to sing the score’s most poignant song, “Bring Him Home.”
“Les Miserables” was spurned by critics the first time out, but it endured by word-of-mouth and popular acclaim. It is overblown, unsubtle and over-long, but by golly you get your money’s worth.