You all know how passionate I am about the theater, broadway and musicals so of course I have been anxiously waiting for the release of the movie rendition of Les Miserables and last week I saw a sneak preview of the movie and WOW, it was so much more than I ever expected. I can’t really say exactly what I expected, I have never seen Les Mis but I have heard quite a bit about it, I can only imagine how the the sets from a live show dwarf in comparison to the sheer magnitude of the scenes in the movie. I am hoping to see it on stage when it comes to Pittsburgh in January so we will see how they compare. As for the movie I am certain it will be up for and win many awards this coming awards season.
If you have never seen Les Mis (on stage or on the big screen) you many want to proceed with caution, I am going to give an overview of the plot and it will contain spoilers, read on if you like to know what to expect before going to see it. If you don’t want it spoiled skip to the bottom to My Thoughts And Favorites.
Les Mis takes place in 19th century France and spans a period of about 15 years or so ending with the 1932 French rebellion. The story begins at a prison camp where Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) has been for 19 years (5 years for stealing bread for his sister’s starving child and 14 more for trying to escape), he is being granted parole and prison guard Javert (played by Russell Crowe) basically tells him to watch his back and not to screw up because he will be waiting to catch him and send him back to prison. Thus begins the cat and mouse chase between Valjean and Javert that is present throughout the entire film.
Valjean finds himself wandering around without a place to stay because no inn will take a convict, finally the Bishop of Digne, Monseigneur Myriel (played by Colm Wilkenson) offers him food and shelter. During the night Valjean steals silver from the Myriel, only to be caught and brought back before the Bishop by the police. Myriel tells the officers that he gave the silver to Valjean and then tells Valjean that he forgot the most important pieces, candlesticks. Once the officers leave the Bishop tells Valjean that his soul now belongs to God and he must use the silver to become a better man. Valjean struggles with how this man was so kind to him, to help him and to give him his freedom and he makes the decision to break his parole and do all he can to become a better man because he sees no future for himself as a former prisoner. This scene was one of my favorites, as he stood on the mountain and tore up his papers the background was so powerful in way that could only be captured in a film.
Fast forward a few years and we find Valjean has taken on a new identity as Monsieur Madeleine, a factory owner, mayor of the city and well respected member of society. A fight breaks out amongst a few of the women workers in his factory and Valjean asks his foreman to handle the situation. Amongst pressure from the other workers and because Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway) has refused his advances, the foreman fires Fantine and throws her from the factory. Fantine was working in the factory to support her illegitimate daughter Cossette (played by Isabelle Allen, young and Amanda Seyfried, older) whom she has left in the care of a less than savory innkeeper and his wife (played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter). In order to make money Fantine finds herself in the streets where she sells her hair (Anne Hathaway actually shaved her head for this role!) her teeth and eventually becomes a prostitute. This is when Anne Hathaway gives an AMAZING performance of the well know song “I Dreamed a Dream.” The emotion in her voice and the pain in her expression brought me to tears and continues to make me cry each time I listen to the soundtrack!
One night after fighting back against a customer Fantine finds herself arrested by none other than Javert. When Valjean arrives (he is the mayor) he recognizes Fantine as his former worker and feels guilty about the part he has played in her demise so he orders Javert to release her and he takes her directly to the hospital as she is very ill from living in the streets. He assures Fantine as she is dying that he will find her daughter Cossette and ensure she gets the life she deserves.
Around this same time Javert tells Monsieur Madeleine that he reminds him of a prisoner he once knew named Valjean, whom they have just caught for violating his parole. Valjean is torn between letting this innocent man take the fall for him, leading him to live a life of freedom, or confessing his real identity to the court. He decides to confess and asks Javert for 3 days to take care his promise he made to Fantine, then he will return to serve his time. They have a confrontation in the hospital and Javert basically says no way and Valjean knocks him out and goes to rescue Cossette and they move to Paris.
Fast forward again a few years and Valjean and Cossette have been living peacefully in Paris until one day when it seems all of the characters from the past as well as newly introduced characters, all cross paths. Valjean and Cossette run into the innkeeper’s wife and her daughter Eponine (played by Samantha Barks) and she recognizes them and tries to squeeze more money out of Valjean for taking Cossette from her all those years ago. As this is happening, Javert intercedes and stops the confrontation, only to realize later that it was Valjean and the cat and mouse chase begins again. And the final meeting during this scene is when Marius (played by Eddie Redmayne — He is AMAZING! One of my favorite actors in the movie) runs into Cossette and falls immediately in love.
Now that Javert has begun chasing Valjean again, he tells Cossette (who is unaware of his past) that they must leave and she is heartbroken as she has fallen in love at first sight with Marius. Marius and his friends are making plans to become part of the revolution in Paris and Marius cannot decide if he should join this movement that he believes so strongly in or if he should go find Cossette. He asks Eponine to please find Cossette and deliver a message to her, the message is intercepted by Valjean and he realizes that he is no longer the only man in Cossette’s life.
As the rebels prepare for the battle ahead of them Javert arrives at the Barricade disguised as rebel and the young Gavroche (played by adorable Daniel Hufflestone) outs him as an officer and the rebels tie him up as they decide what to do with him. Valjean arrives at the barricades looking for Marius and sees Javert and asks the rebels if he can have the pleasure of executing him and they grant his request. Being a changed man with no hard feelings for Javert, Valjean fakes Javert’s death and lets him go free only to have Javert ensure him this does not mean he will not continue to hunt Valjean down.
As the rebels prepare for their final battle, Valjean realizes how much Marius loves Cossette and that as her “father” he will not always be around and it is time to let her move into the next phase of her life. During the battle he saves Marius after he is shot by escaping and carrying an unconscious Marius through the sewers to safety and to the hospital. As he is nearing the end of the sewers, Valjean again runs into a waiting Javert and begs him to let him take Marius to the hospital. Although Javert vowed to bring Valjean down, he cannot bring himself to arrest him and lets him go. Javert then struggles with right and wrong, and cannot bear that he has stooped to Valjean’s criminal level and can no longer live with himself so he commits suicide. This is another powerful scene in the movie that I think can only be done justice by film’s ability to create massive scenes and backgrounds that just can’t be replicated on a stage.
Once Marius and Cossette have been reunited, Marius morns the loss of his friends (“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” the part of the movie that made me totally fall in love with Eddie Redmayne) and Valjean confesses his past to Marius and tells him he must leave as not to bring danger to Cossette and asks him please never to tell Cossette why he left.
Marius and Cossette marry and on their wedding day Marius finds out from the Innkeeper (who has crashed the reception) that Valjean was the one who saved him from the barricades. Marius and Cossette rush of to find Valjean so that he can thank him for saving his life and they find him in seclusion as he sits waiting to die after his long hard life. The spirt of Fantine comes to guide Valjean to Heaven, and Fantine, Valjean, Cossette and Marius perform the “Epilogue- Valjean’s Death” which after listening the soundtrack over and over is my favorite song from the movie, there is so much emotion and it wraps up the story so well as they all move on to the next phase of their lives, ”And remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God”
My Thoughts and Favorites
In case you are not familiar with how movies and television shows that have songs in them are produced, they film the scenes and the actors lip sync. They then record the vocals and they are dubbed over the lip sync (so painfully obvious on Glee now I have a hard time watching anymore). In Les Miserables the actors sang live as they filmed the scenes, which is something that is rarely done and in my opinion leads to much more emotion in the performances.
The casting for this movie was stellar, I’m still not quite sold on Russell Crowe’s voice, he definitely can sing but there is just something about his tone that doesn’t get to my heart like the other actor’s voices, maybe it was just the nature of his character that is holding me back. I had never seen Eddie Redmayne (Marius) prior to this movie but as soon as his character was introduced I was completely taken by his talent. The 2 youngest actors, Isabelle Allen as young Cossette and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, had fantastic voices and were very talented in their roles. Sacha Barron Cohen (who you may know as Borat) and Helena Bonham Carter (who I finally placed from Harry Potter after looking her up!) provide the perfect comedic pair as the innkeeper and his wife.
The soundtrack for the movie is fantastic, as I listen to its like listening to the movie and I keep wanting to switch screens on my iPod and “see” whats going on! My favorite tracks/scenes from the movie are Anne Hathaway’s performance of “I Dreamed a Dream”, Isabelle Allen as young Cosette performing “Castle On a Cloud”, Samantha Barks’ performance of “On My Own”, Hugh Jackman performing “Bring Him Home”, Eddie Redmayne’s performance of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” and the final song “Epilogue” performed by Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Amanda Siegfreid, Eddie Redmayne, along with the Les Miserables cast. If you listen to showtunes, I’m sure you have heard some of iconic songs from the musical before, but if you have never seen it you gain a whole new perspective of the meaning of the songs after you have seen what the words represent.
If you are thinking about seeing this movie, go! What are you waiting for??? It is worth the price of admission and in my opinion MUST be seen on the big screen, seeing it in your living room once the DVD is released will just not be the same. I’m certain I will be seeing it several more times in the theater. If you have seen it, let me know what you thought.
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