12/28/2012 02:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Popcorn Preview: Les Misérables

Film: Les Misérables (2012)
Cast includes: Hugh Jackman (X-Men), Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada), Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!), Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), Hellena Bonham Carter (The Kings Speech), Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn), Samantha Barks (Grove High)
Director: Tom Hooper (The Kings Speech)
Genre: Musical | Drama | Romance
Based on the novel by Victor Hugo and the play by Claude- Michel Schönberg, Alain Boubill, Jean-Marc Natel and Herbert Kretzmer (157 minutes)

"Look down. Look down. Don't look him in the eye," sing the prisoners pulling the lines. Javert is a cruel taskmaster and enjoys making demands. That's why he makes Prisoner 24601 lift the heavy mast. Jean Valjean (24601) has been in prison for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's family. It's 1815 France and today Jean Valjean is being released... more accurately... he's being paroled. Failure to report every month means he'll be immediately rearrested. "Look down. Look down. You'll always be a slave." "Let's see what will this new world holds for me," sings Jean Valjean. "No work here... no place to stay..." until the kind Bishop offers hospitality. But Jean Valjean repays the kindness by stealing the silver. Arrested immediately, Jean Valjean claims the Bishop gave him the silver. Much to his surprise, the Bishop says the story is true... and he gives Jean Valjean the large silver candlesticks, too. "See this as a plan... to become an honest man." After some soul searching, he decides to leave Jean Valjean behind so "another story can begin."

Eight years later, Jean Valjean has reinvented himself as Monsieur Madeleine. He has become a factory owner and the town's mayor. Yet, he may never be rid of Javert, who arrives on the day that one of his factory workers, Fantine, is exposed as an unwed mother. The factory foreman throws Fantine out on the street so she'll have no way to make money for her little girl. Meanwhile, when a man is trapped under a carriage, Monsieur Madeleine manages to free him by singlehandedly lifting the heavy weight. Javert had only known one other man with that kind of strength... Prisoner 24601. Fantine's locket only brings 4 franks. Before long, she sells her hair and her teeth... and eventually turns to prostitution. "I dreamed a dream in time gone by... when hope was high, and life worth living," she sings in one of the most memorable moments of the story. "Life has killed that dream I dreamed." That's when Monsieur Madeleine learns about Fantine and the child. As Fantine is dying, Monsieur Madeleine promises to bring up the child as his own. But his past always catches up with him. Another man will soon hang for being the escaped Prisoner 24601 unless Jean Valjean reveals himself. "If I speak, I am done. If I stay silent, I am dead. Who am I?"

Set against the backdrop of pre-revolution France, it's a land where "we fought for liberty... now we fight for bread." So Jean Valjean's story is intertwined with several others. Les Misérables is an operetta... most of the story told in song. The director, Tom Hooper, decided he did not want to produce it the way most musicals are produced... recording the songs in a studio and having actors lip-sync them on the set. All the singing was actually preformed during the filming. For that reason, it feels much more immediate and intense than in most musicals. The tradeoff is that the music is a bit less slick. As you'd expect, Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) gives an amazing performance, but so do many others whom we may not have realized could sing. (In some cases it's slightly jarring at first.) The movie retains the emotional intensity we loved from the play, and of course, it has the wonderful music. (There's even a new song by the original writers.) It ends on a encouraging note... in the face of hardship and injustice, there's still hope for a better world. "Let others rise to take our place, until the Earth is free!"

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
Escaped prisoner Jean Valjean can reinvent himself, but he'll never escape his past

Popcorn Profile
Rated: PG-13
Audience: Young adults
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises comfortably
Visual Style: High-end production
Character Development: Engaging
Language: Artful
Social Significance: Pure entertainment & Thought provoking

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