Ollie Reviews... Les Misérables (2013)
After a far too long absence from the cinema (especially as a film student), I managed to get hold of some tickets to an early showing of this years musical feature film, Les Misérables. Not having seen the theatre production, I was unaware of the plot and the songs featured in the musical. Whilst many of you may know how the story goes, I feel it is necessary to offer a summary of the film to refresh your memories.
(Spoiler alert of summary, personal comments below image of Russell Crowe if you wish to skip this section)
The story is set in 19th Century France and follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Valjean has been a slave for 19 years after caught stealing food for his sister and her child. He is constantly overlooked by the uptight Javert (Russell Crowe) who releases him on parole. Valjean is taken in by the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson), to which Valjean steals his silver and flees in the night. The following morning he is caught by the authorities who state that he told them the silver was a gift; the Bishop lies, stating that it is true. Stunned by the kindness of the Bishop for his cruel actions, Valjean vows to live the life of an honest man, throwing his parole papers into the unknown.
8 years later, Valjean is now a factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. One of the factory workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), loses her job over the discovery of her sending money to her younger daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen). With no alternative, Fantine resorts to pawning her treasures, selling her hair, selling a tooth, and becoming a prostitute. One man attempts to take advantage of Fantine but is harmed from her self-defence. Just as Javert goes to arrest her, Valjean comes to her rescue and takes her to the hospital. Javert confesses to Valjean the following day that he believed him to be the man who broke his parole but had been informed that the man was in fact caught. Staying true to his new honest life, Valjean disrupts the court hearing exclaiming that he is the man they are after. After visiting a dying Fantine, he promises to look after her daughter for her, to whom he buys off the Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter).
9 years later a government official, sympathetic towards the poor, is close to passing away. Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) and Enjorlas (Aaron Tveit) plan their revolution. Whilst protesting, Marius catches an older Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and the two immediately fall in love. Marius is determined to meet Cosette again and asks his friend Éponine (Samantha Barks) to find out her whereabouts.
Éponine is secretly in love with Marius but knows he does not feel the same for her. However she finds out where Cosette is living, where Marius and her meet. Later that night a group of men lead by Thénardier attempt to rob Valjean’s home. Éponine’s loves Marius enough for him to be happy with Cosette and screams out, alerting Valjean who mistakes the burglary for Javert, causing them to flee. Cosette leaves behind a letter for Marius outside her home but Éponine gets to it before him and keeps it hidden. After realising that Marius is in love with Cosette, Éponine decides to join the revolution.
The next day Marius and Enjorlas intercept the official’s funeral and begin protesting. An official open-fires on them killing an old woman, causing the rebels to react and attack the officials. Marius and Enjorlas then rush back to their hideout where they create a barricade from furniture and await the officials to attack. Javert poses as a rebel to spy on them but is recognised and exposed. Valjean is given a message to pass on to Cosette from Marius. He reads it and comes to realise the love they share for each-other.
Determined to protect Marius so that Cosette live happy, he sets out to find and protect him. Posing as a rebel, Valjean manages to enter the rebels barricade and proves his trust from killing an official on the rooftops. He is given Javert and pretends to execute him but chooses to set him free. A group of officials storm the barricade, in which Éponine sacrifices herself to save Marius from the attack.
The following day the officials attack in great numbers, fully-armed. Valjean spots a wounded Marius and escapes with him down the sewers, whilst the remaining rebels are executed. Javert examines the bodies and notices Valjean is missing before spotting the open sewer.
Valjean, now carrying an unconscious Marius, comes across Thénardier looting bodies in the sewers. He steals Marius’ ring moments before Valjean carries an unaware Marius to safety. After finally reaching the sewer exit, the two are confronted by Javert. He threatens to shoot Valjean, a command that he ignores. Torn between his duties and morals, Javert can no longer comply with his position as an official and commits suicide.
The next day Marius awakens at his home. He heads to the barricade to mourn his friends. Cosette meets him there and goes home with him. Aware of Cosette’s and Marius’ profound love, Valjean feels he must leave after explaining his story and regretful past life to Marius. He asks for it never to be told to Cosette and leaves without saying goodbye to her.
At Marius’ and Cosette’s wedding, the Thénardier’s crash it in order to loot the wealthy guests. Thénardier explains to Marius how he saw Valjean that night in the sewers with a corpse. Showing Marius’ ring as proof, Marius realises that it was Valjean that saved him and is told his whereabouts by Thénardier.
Valjean is close to dying before confronted by Marius and Cosette. He hands her a message, confessions of his past life, before passing away. The final shot of the film is Valjean along with the other fallen rebels that are at the barricade on the rue Sofflot.
Personally I’m not the biggest fan of musical films but Les Misérables really blew me away. Not only did it stand out as a musical but could be appreciated as a film. There is barely no dialogue from start to finish as everything is sung, which worked really well with the powerful, emphasised images. Just the opening scene alone of the slaves pulling in a ship was immense.
Tom Hooper did a really good job with this film and I was most surprised by the cast’s ability to sing. Hugh Jackman evidently had the best performance but I feel that Russel Crowe had the better song choices which felt right for his tone of voice. Overall I feel that Les Misérables is a film for anyone; for those who have and haven’t seen the theatrical performance, to those who enjoy and aren’t too fussed about musicals. Seriously the cinematography and musical scores (no doubt) were truly brilliant, with Cohen’s and Carter’s characters bringing a dose of enjoyable humour to the film.
Les Misérables has something for everything and I would be terribly surprised if it did not manage to bag itself an Oscar at this year’s event.
My best bit:
The combination of the cast and cinematography is outstanding, primarily the opening and closing shots.
My worst bit:
One song seemed to go on for a good 10 minutes, which didn’t really appeal to me.
Overall rating: 4/5
Les Misérables. Tom Hooper. Working Title Films. UK. 2013.