The Critic – Les Miserables

Les Miserables 1

Holy crap! It has been a long time hasn’t it? Sorry about the hiatus we’ve been on for the last few months, as Justin said in his post yesterday we don’t really have any good excuse for being gone for so long other than our personal lives got busy and as for Justin and Erik have been crazy busy with work. I’ve been busy finding jobs and leaving them about just as fast as I got them, but such is life. I’m so glad that we are back and I’m beyond excited that the first film I’m reviewing is Les Miserables.

I have been a fan of the story of Les Miserables for a very long time, for as long as I can remember I have watched the Liam Neeson version of the movie and I have enjoyed watching it on many occasions. Sadly it was not until early last year that I had seen the musical version of the story, I went with a good friend of mine to see a rebroadcast of the 25th anniversary concert version at a theatre and by the time the singing was over I had fallen in love with the story of Les Mis in a completely different and fascinating way. For as long as I had known the story and watched the movie I had never been as emotionally moved as I had been that night after the final moments shared between a fading Jean Valjean and the long gone Fontaine. Every time since that I’ve watched that version of Les Mis and in seeing a few versions of the production I have gotten misty eyed to the point of shedding quite a few tears. Manly tears I assure you. When I found out that the musical version of the show would be coming to theatres and it was staring Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe I was ecstatic and I of course rushed to the theatre on opening day and watched it.

Les Miserables is a musical based on the 19th century novel written by Victor Hugo, it is the story of a man named Jean Valjean (Jackman) who was imprisoned for 19 years for stealing  a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s son. He finally gets out on parole and, with the help of a kindly Father, turns his life around and escapes the watchful eye of the law; years later he adopts a small girl named Cosette and once more escapes the ever vigilant Javert (Crowe). Even more time passes and now Cosette is a grown woman who falls in love with a man named Marius, a key planner in a planned revolution, they are both in love with one another on first laying eyes upon each other, and Valjean is now afraid to lose the only thing that he feels has brought purpose to his life since earning his freedom.

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This is another film that I think starting with what I didn’t enjoy about the movie would be a better idea than me just ranting about what I enjoyed, so let’s go with it like that. There were two things and one of them is more something I’m not sure how I feel about but I could possibly get over upon further viewings. The first thing, the one I’m not sure about, was Marius, he is an incredibly vital character to the story but I just don’t think they picked the correct actor for the part. Who else should they have cast? Well I may be killed for this but here I go: Nick Jonas. Why? Because he was amazing in the 25th anniversary that I saw, he blew my mind with how good he was on his own with out his brothers. He would have been great, granted I don’t know how good his actual acting chops are. I mean they got the same girl who played Eponine that played her in the 25th, so how hard could it have been? I mean what is he doing currently? Nothing, at all. But as I said, I can probably get over it with further viewings of the movie, which will definitely happen.

The one thing that bothered me most about the movie though, I’d have to say, was some of the filming choices. There were a LOT of close ups in this movie. And I mean a LOT! This is not a happy movie, by any stretch of the imagination, so when I say people cry a fair bit in the film, I mean it. I don’t mean that they full out bawl, I just mean there are a fair amount of tears, and every time there were tears there was an uncomfortably close close up. Pretty much whenever anyone spoke, well sang, regardless of if they were by themselves or with other people, there was a close up. It just got kind of annoying after it happening for three hours. That being said, the movie looked beautiful, I really enjoyed watching the movie, it really puts you into the atmosphere of France in the 1800’s.

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What worked in the movie? Pretty much everything else. The choice for all the other actors was pretty spot on, I was concerned about Anne Hathaway at first but then I realized that with the added challenge of them singing during the actual filming, they would not have picked her if she could not sing well. I think that is actually what gave this movie the power that there was behind it, the live singing gave the lines behind it so much more power than if it was recorded in a studio and layered over their acting, it gives the film more meaning I believe. How do I mean that? I mean that it makes it not studio perfect, it gives the singing flaws and at certain times an air of breathlessness that really makes you believe what you are watching. The music is the most important part of this film, which sounds obvious because it is a musical, but it really is important. If you watch the Liam Neeson film or try to read the huge novel you will get the meaning of the story easily enough, but it’s the music that truly brings this story to life and makes you feel the power of the film. Here is my favourite song from the musical, it comes at a very emotional point in the story:

Once again I need to talk about how brilliant the casting was, there are two characters in Les Mis, the Thénardiers, they are sort of comic relief, but at the same time they are very creepy, scum of the earth characters and better people could not have been cast to play them: Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. That was clearly inspired casting if I have ever seen it, you could not have chosen two better individuals to play these terrible human beings. For those of you thinking that Cohen is an odd choice to put in a musical where the actors have to actually sing, go check out Sweeny Todd, I’ll wait here while you watch it. Done? Good. He’s pretty impressive isn’t he? I thought so!

When all is said and done I think this movie is a very powerful and well interpreted version of the most popular and beloved musical that has ever been written. If you have a chance find the 25th Anniversary Concert as well as this new film, they are two experiences that you won’t want to miss. By the end of the film I was in tears, I was definitely crying, and as much as I’d like to say they were manly tears, they really weren’t, I was weeping, you really feel for these characters, you get attached to them throughout the movie. You see Valjean’s transformation from grungy criminal to a noble hero, you watch a girl grow up and find herself in a better position than she could have ever been in before hand. They are characters you can’t help but get invested in, and that helps. I was not the only one choked up in the theatre, all the way across the large theatre there were people sniffling and sobbing by the end, and when the final scene hit and there was not a dry eye in the house, the crowed burst into a long, loud round of applause with whistles and hoots and hollers coming from all angles. I’d say that speaks marvels about the quality of the movie.

Pros:

  • Casting choices were brilliant for the most part
  • Music and singing were performed beautifully
  • The visuals were mesmerizing and transported you into the world of 19th Century France

Cons:

  • Not sure if they cast the correct actor to play Marius
  • So many close ups

Les Miserables: 9/10

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***

This is the part where I do a bit of shameless plugging, so just bear with me for a bit. (Sorry if you’ve read this already)

My friend C.W. Sanders, from the podcast Classy Ring Attire, and I have started up a new podcast called America’s Hat/Canada’s Shorts. It’s a podcast where we sit down and talk about cultural differences between our two countries and about things that may not have crossed the border in the same way if they did at all. Our first one came out on Christmas Eve Day and on it we talk about accents and holidays, it’s been a lot of fun to do and we hope you will listen, I’ll be posting them on my blog posts and on the TUG Facebook page as they are released. Check out episode one HERE.

Also Today is a double review day! Every year my mother and I catch a double feature at the theatre, this year we saw Les Miserables and Django Unchained. The Django Unchained review will come out next Tuesday, click HERE to read the review for The Hobbit, today’s second review. As for this Thursday I will be reviewing the graphic novel The Underwater Welder. So glad to be back! See you on Thursday everyone!

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Follow Nathan on Twitter @Nait93.

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