Some movies have the ability to make us weep, alter opinions, soften hardened hearts, or change a life – Les Misérables can do all that, and more. The first musical I remember watching as a child was Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge; it was a burlesque musical with a coalescence of moments bathed in love, hate, jealously, pain, and remorse. Les Misérables is packed with similar emotions, where its powerful deliverance will strongly affect the audience. Adapted and inspired by the French author Victor Hugo’s original novel, the movie is an earth-shattering production of talented actors and stupefying special effects.
The first scene opens with an unexpected servile shot of convicts heaving a megaton ship, knee-deep in water in the unforgiving rain. The movie further unravels to show a convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) released on parole after a grim 19 years in prison. Police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) isn’t pleased about this. It is his sworn duty to keep men like Valjean behind bars. He believes that such people have no place in the world other than within the confines of a prison cell. The movie gets interesting when a bishop intercedes in Jean Valjean’s life, prodding him to take a renewed path that is free from a vengeful, loathsome heart.
Both Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman play their roles marvellously; their musical performances are just as laudable. All the characters of Les Misérables were trained to sing without the fine-tuning aid of a studio, so that their performances reflected the raw vividness of such a tumultuous time. The shots of France in the 1800s, highlighting impoverishment, shoddy folk, and the demeaning status of women, weren’t pleasant to look upon. They really make you think about how people got away with such lurid acts.
The movie then shifts to the disturbing life of Fantine (Anne Hathaway). She’s a hardworking factory girl who sends her wages to her illegitimate daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), who lives in the care of the Thénardiers (played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter). The Thénardiers’ crude roles offer a smidge of humour against the rather bleak backdrop of the film. The fate of Fantine crushed my insides, where Hathaway’s rendition of the song ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, steals the show. Cosette is seen as a fragile yet strong-willed young girl, awaiting the return of her mother. In a surprising turn of events, the future of Cosette doesn’t seem bleary as previously thought.
Towards the end of the movie, you’ll come across revolutionaries rioting as part of the June Rebellion of France – a sight to behold, no doubt. They’re the kind of men who women would support wholeheartedly without question; their unwavering need for justice is impressive. Heading the revolution is Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) and close friend, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) – their passionate roles aren’t given due credit off screen. The entire cast that make up the revolutionary group deserve praise and applause for their near-perfect roles.
The characters have been picked wisely; I cannot say anything laced with cynicism about the choices made. While the movie has been directed and produced with utmost finesse, the only downside for me was the up-close shots of the characters’ faces as they belted out tunes of heartbreak, sorrow, injustice, joy, or unrequited love. I didn’t need my face smothered visually with their imposing features. Other than that, and the fact that the June Rebellion was an abrupt inclusion, the movie was beautiful. If you don’t have a thing for musicals, I suggest going with an open mind since this movie genre will largely appeal to those who adore musicals.