The film version of Les Miserables is truly an amalgamation of the good, the bad and the ugly. All three elements are found in this epic film of faith, forgiveness and redemption. It has taken much too long for this colossal Broadway success to find its way to the screen. But it has arrived -- glorious but flawed.
The story is based on Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Miserables. It tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. The time is the early 19th century and France is a country of unrest and hard times. Valjean is released from prison but is constantly pursued by the police officer named Javert (Russell Crowe).
Valjean manages to make his fortune and becomes the mayor of a town in which a factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) lives. She has a small daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen). When she is fired from her job she is forced into a life of prostitution. The misery that ensues makes up the first half of the film.
In time Valjean's life becomes entwined with Cosette and he becomes her guardian. When she is 18 or so there is a student rebellion in their town which also impacts Valjean's life. All of these elements make up the second half of the film.
The plot and the acting are the "good" parts of the film. Jackman makes a brave and noble Valjean, and Hathaway is outstanding as Fantine. Samantha Barks makes an impression as the street waif Eponine while Eddie Redmayne gives real heart to the rebel student Marius.
The "bad" element of the movie is the fact director Tom Hooper decided each actor should actually sing his part while acting the role. He was decidedly against dubbing in the voice for the musical numbers later. This works in some ways and doesn't work in others. In order to give real dramatic push to some of his songs Jackman enters into a sing/speak method. This does increase the dramatic effect but it minimizes the soaring musical quality devotees of the renowned score want.
Hathaway, who will probably get an Academy Award nomination for her role, wrings every miserable moment out of the classic "I Dreamed A Dream" but it isn't the most melodious rendering of the song.
The "ugly" element of the film is the determination by Hooper that his sets look as dirty and dingy as they should have been. This authenticity also means Hathaway must be scarecrow thin, and various characters must have rotting teeth and sallow complexions. No Hollywood glamour here, just a dose of reality.
Although the film runs for almost three hours, and there only a few spoken words uttered, it seems some of the songs were cut down for time's sake. This brevity, if it does exist, robs the show of some of its emotional impact. There is emotional clout but it doesn't seem as rousing and stirring as moments in the live play presentations.
The film is rated PG-13 for violence and sexual situations.
Les Miserables is a movie that will entertain you and touch your emotions. Still it is somehow not the powerhouse of filmmaking you might have wished it to be. Maybe expectations were just too high, or maybe the bad and the ugly diminished the good.
I scored Les Miserables a rebellious 7 out of 10.
Jackie K Cooper