January 4, 2013
“I am condemned if I speak,” sings Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). “If I remain silent, I am damned.” If he reveals his true identity, police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) will send Valjean back to prison for breaking his parole. If he does not confess, his conscience will destroy him. That’s the moral dilemma and melodramatic heart of “Les Miserables,” an operatic retelling of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, based on the mega-hit stage musical. “Who am I?” sings Valjean. How he answers that question affects the lives of many characters in the drama.
Can Valjean protect young Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) whom he loves as a daughter? Does Marius (Eddie Redmayne) choose revolution or love for Cosette? Will inspector Javert return Valjean to prison and hard labor for the rest of Valjean’s life? For answers, see “Les Miserables,” ASAP.
As Jean Valjean, Hugh Jackman heads a talented cast of singing actors. Jackman’s intense Valjean sings well, especially the touching prayer, “Bring Him Home.” He’s heroic, strong, conflicted, and determined to change his life. Russell Crowe sings Valjean’s nemesis, inspector Javert with less vocal skill but lots of passion. He’s a Calvinist. For him, a person is either bad or good, and cannot change. “Once a thief, always a thief,” he sings. “Honest work, just reward; that’s the way to please the Lord.” Anne Hathaway is tragic Fantine, whose despairing “I Dreamed a Dream” stops the show in act one. The young lovers, Cosette and Marius, are sung — very well — by Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne. Like the band of young revolutionaries, they must decide “who we are.”
Others in the large cast include Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as amoral Master and Mistress Thenardier, innkeepers whose greed knows no limits. They are caricatures whom we should find appalling, not amusing. Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks are revolutionary student Enjoiras and unhappy Eponine. Hundreds of singing actors complete the large cast.
“Les Miserables” is a big film, full of grand and intimate emotions, memorable melodies and simple, passionate words, a successful film translation of the stage hit (which I saw twice). Directed by Tom Hooper, with multiple writers (including Victor Hugo) and music by Claude-Michel Schonberg, it’s a movie you should see in a theater; don’t just wait for the DVD. Wide shots of street barricades and rebellion and close-ups of the story’s principals dazzle on the big screen. The music, too, is grand — rousing choruses, solos full of anguish, romantic duets, and dramatic trios, quartets and quintets.
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence and themes, it runs 157 minutes. Adult entertainment.
Operatic “Les Miz,”
Emotions grand and small,
Melodrama, tears —
I bet you’ll love it all.