Les Misérables (2012)

Posted: August 26, 2013 in Favorite Films
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36. Les Misérables (2012)

Director: Tom Hooper

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Daniel Huttlestone

Until as recently as three years ago, I was not a fan of musicals. Not one bit. Oh, sure, I liked movies such as “The Wizard of Oz,” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” but the genre as a whole left me rather cold. Then one day I played the DVD of 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain” starring Gene Kelly, and it was as if a light switch had been turned on inside my head. Later on came the total revelation that was 1965’s Best Picture winner, “The Sound of Music.” There were songs I’d known all my life which I had no idea actually originated with that movie. By that point, as far as musicals were concerned, anything was possible.

Similarly, I have had a long history of trying and failing to get enthusiastic about “Les Misérables,” Victor Hugo’s 1862 story of Jean Valjean (a man jailed for 19 years upon stealing a loaf of bread), Javert (the law officer who chases him after he breaks parole), the revolutionaries fighting a no-win scenario, and the love triangle that provides a spark of hope for the future. I had seen several adaptations on film, each one more disappointing than the last. To this day, I’ve only attended one live performance of the musical, and it was substandard at best. I was just about to give up hope of ever finding a presentation of this tale to my liking… even as the hype surrounded a new movie in 2012 which, unlike all previous film versions, was an adaptation not of the novel but of the stage musical. Then I tuned in to the 85th Annual Academy Awards on the night of February 24th, 2013. Among the films competing for Best Original Song that night was “Les Misérables,” and the cast came out to perform “One Day More.” Well, I was blown away. I had to see more, and received a copy of the movie for my birthday. I’ll be forever glad that I did.

I defy anyone to resist being moved by at least one segment of “Les Misérables.” As almost the entire movie’s dialogue is sung rather than spoken, it is not all that hard to find multiple songs that stand out. I found myself drawn into the movie instantly by the opening shot, swooping down from overhead into the prison where Hugh Jackman and others start in on “Look Down.” Now, I know that there has been a lot of criticism regarding Russell Crowe’s singing voice. I refuse to take part, except perhaps to say that he sounds akin to David Bowie having a very bad day. Sorry if I’ve just ruined “Labyrinth” for anyone with that visual. Jackman himself excels at the songs “Look Down,” “Who Am I?” and “Suddenly.” It’s not hard to see how Anne Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress. Her rendition of the popular “I Dreamed a Dream” sees her pouring as much emotion into any scene I’ve ever seen her play. Amanda Seyfried is stunning as Cosette, particularly in her parts of “In My Life” and “A Heart Full of Love.” But easily my favorite song of the lot is the rallying cry “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and its reprisal.

Although Hathaway got the acting award, I still personally find the breakout performance to be that of newcomer Samantha Barks as Éponine. Through her solo performance of “On My Own” and her duet with Eddie Redmayne on “A Little Fall of Rain,” Ms. Barks is absolutely breathtaking. Yet, both women could claim a certain amount of authority on their roles going in. Samantha Barks had previously played the part of Éponine for the London production of “Les Misérables.” Anne Hathaway, meanwhile, can literally be said to have been born to play the role of Fantine, as her mother had played the same role in the stage musical’s original American run.

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