Les Miserables: A Comprehensive Review


movieposterDisclaimer: This will be another long one, and it will contain book/movie/musical spoilers.  I got all the actors and actresses from IMDb.  The historical checks I make, which will be in parentheses, come from Wikipedia

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Hello, hello!  I’m back with another Les Misérables post!  This time, as you can tell from the image, I went to see the movie that premiered on Christmas Day.  I was initially anxious when I heard that this particular adaptation was going to be based on the musical, but my fears were unfounded.  I’m on a bit of an emotional adrenaline rush right now, and I feel like blabbering on and on about this and that.  I’d rather not be a bother, so I’ll divide this up neatly.  Since this is a musical-movie, it can be rather difficult to judge.  So, I’ll judge it as a movie and a musical separately.

Some Info (Book and History)

As I said before, this movie is an adaptation, but it is a unique.  Les Misérables has plenty of movie adaptations.  However, this is the first one that is based primarily off the musical.  If any of my readers has seen it, you’ll recognize the music immediately.  One of the things I really appreciated was that the producers also incorporated bits of the book into this movie.  I read the book my sophomore year of high school shortly after seeing the musical the first time, so I was pleasantly satisfied both musically and literature-wise.  For the curious, I’ll point out some things I saw from the book that were in the movie while also filling in any other mental holes.  This is your second spoiler alert (counting the disclaimer)!

  • First, both the movie and the musical tell you that Jean Valjean served nineteen years in jail.  Five years for stealing a loaf of bread for his nephew, and fourteen for trying to escape.  Why did he try to escape, instead of staying put?  Neither the movie nor the musical really explains why.  Hugo relates Valjean’s frantic desire for escape to a caged animal that sees the door to its cage opened repeatedly.  The animal runs out, unthinking, wanting nothing but freedom.
  • Most people know that Hugo’s novel takes place during the French Revolution.  It can be called such, but it is often mistaken for the infamous one that Charles Dickens describes in A Tale of Two Cities.  This is not the revolution of the guillotine, the Sun King, etc.  This one is referred to as the June Rebellion.  I believe, working off the top of my head here, it occurred roughly two decades after the infamous one.  It was an unsuccessful, anti-monarchist revolution headed by Parisian students that were protesting the still-deplorable state of the poor.  The powder keg of tension exploded when General Lamarque, who was admired by the proletariat, died.  The students built a barricade in protest and were attacked by the soldiers.  No one survived.  (Amendment: I wanted to test my historical memory by working off the top of my head.  A check of Wikipedia sets the duration between the French Revolution and June Rebellion at forty-three years.  Not even close… 😉 )
  • Marius’ grandfather makes brief appearances in the movie.  In the first, he scolds Marius for being a disgrace to the family.  I have no idea why the movie put this in here without leaving a hint of why this happens.  There is tension in the Pontmercy household between Marius’ grandfather and father.  His grandfather is a Royalist, a monarchist.  His father is a Republican, as in “Viva la France!”  I do not exactly recall why Marius is raised by his grandfather.  Marius shares his father’s Republican leaning.  Hence, the comment about disgrace.  (Amendment:  Another check of Wikipedia states that Marius’ father fought in the Battle of Waterloo, where he almost died.  He dies later while his father still lives.)
  • The movie did justice when it comes to Eponine’s death.  The musical just shows her mortal wounds to the audience, then she dies.  She actually dies saving Marius from a gun barrel that was pointed in his direction.  He had nowhere to escape, so she puts her hand over the barrel and takes the hit for him.
  • Speaking of Eponine, Gavroche is actually her younger brother.  He makes a brief appearance earlier in the book when both Cosette and Eponine are children.  Basically, he wails and cries, and his “loving” parents tell him to shut it.  Hugo does not explain how he escapes from his home to become a street urchin.
  • Most of the students do die when they become trapped in a parlor.  The movie got that right.  What I loved most was when Grantaire stood beside Enjolras to die with him.  In the book, Grantaire admires his student leader.  Enjolras, however, mainly sees him as a drunken irritant, though he treats him well enough.  When death draws near, Grantaire stands beside Enjolras, and the two die while holding hands. *heart gets ripped out*

Okay, that’s all.  Now down to the nitty-gritty…

As a Movie…

…I’d defintitely recommend it.  The acting is spot-on, and Hugh Jackman played Valjean well.  Apologies to Mr. Jackman for initially doubting you in your role.  According to one of my professors, he does have some theatrical experience.  It certainly shows.  Apparently, his co-star, Russell Crowe, was also a song-and-dance man at one point.  He did the best he could, and I admired his deadpan.  But, I would not have chosen him to play Javert.  This is mostly because I don’t think his voice suited his part.  He does alright.  I had an intuitive feeling that Anne Hathaway would make a great Fantine, and she did.  Excellent job.  Those are my main pointers.  I’ll explore the other players below.

As a Musical…

I’ve heard people complain that the age of the brilliant movie-musical died with Rogers and Hammerstein, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, etc.  As a theatrical person, I would say it still has some life, though it’s no Berlin production.  But, that seems unfair to say.  Those composers set the standard impossibly high, and I’d say it’s almost unreachable.  This also applies to some of the roles.  Michael Ball was the original Marius in the London production.  Sorry, Michael, but you kind of ruined it for all the others that play your role.  As Marius, he was too good.  I don’t think anybody can ever top him.  The same goes with Phillip Quast as Javert in the 10th Anniversary Production.  Russell Crowe and Eddy Redmayne did well, but…  The same goes for Enjolras.  However, I did enjoy Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers.  I couldn’t have picked better.  All in all, I’d recommend you buy the music from the 10th Anniversary Production if you want to hear this musical in all it’s glory.  Better yet, see it on stage.  If neither of those options are available to you, I have no qualms recommending this as a somewhat accurate musical adaptation.  I say somewhat because the movie producers switched around the orders of some songs, and even added some new ones.  To their credit, the liberties they took did not affect the smoothness of the movie at all.

Yep, it was definitely one of the few movies that was actually worth seeing in theaters, but the musical will always be first in my heart.  One more thing, click the link.

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