I saw the new release of Les Misérables yesterday. Two words – see it! The cast, music, and direction all combined to hit this one out of the park. I’ll try to write this without spoilers for those unfamiliar with the various outcomes in the story.
I saw Les Misérables on the stage some years back, and it was excellently done. The film felt very much like a live stage production. The cast sang live during the filming, adding a realism, emotion, and power to the production missing in most movie musicals. This made an amazing difference in my opinion.
Anne Hathaway sang like an angel, with Samantha Barks close behind. Their singing captured the pathos of the characters and situations beautifully and naturally in the course of their acting. Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe showed incredible range and talent well beyond that required for most movies these days. Isabelle Allen singing as the young Cosette also shone brightly. Again, the entire production felt more like the live stage.
The complex story weaves together contrasts like sin and redemption, mercy and grace vs. law-based righteousness, hope vs. despair, love and hate, honesty vs. thievery, and duty in the face of moral contradiction. Then there’s loyalty and keeping promises, and doing the right thing at great personal sacrifice.
At its core, the story explores Jean Valjean’s transformation as a result of the Bishop’s mercy on him, and further as he takes in Cosette to raise as his daughter. Jean Valjean benefits repeatedly from God’s favorable providence as he continues to pray and practice grace and mercy. Inspector Javier, seeing only the demands of the law, relentlessly pursues Jean Valjean over the decades.
Probably one of the most powerful scenes between Jean Valjean and Inspector Javeir occurs when Valjean has the opportunity, indeed the expectation, of killing Javier. The confrontation lays bare the stark contrast between grace and law, forgiveness vs. revenge. The periodic soul searching of these two men highlights their paths through the story, with Valjean periodically asking under grace “who am I?” while Javier exudes full confidence under the law until finally confronted by Valjean about his underlying assumptions. Jackman and Crowe play this out magnificently.
All this occurs against the backdrop of early 19th century France and the French Revolution. The scope is sweeping, yet the individual stories intimate, and the emotional content gripping.
Les Misérables is very intense and some of the scenes and topics, especially in the beginning, are inappropriate for children. I’d recommend the movie for middle teens or higher. I also recommend bringing some tissues. You’ll need them.
Les Misérables presents one big screen and full Dolby sound experience you won’t want to miss.