Les Misérables is a film adaptation of the hit stage musical Les Misérables which is based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel of the same name. I am an old-timer in terms of story with Les Mis as I’ve read the book, seen the 1998 movie starring Liam Neeson (Jean Valjean); Uma Thurman (Fantine); Geoffrey Rush (Javert); and Claire Danes (Cosette), and seen both the 10th and 25th anniversary concerts.
The movie opens on a visually stunning scene where Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who was jailed for stealing a loaf of bread, along with other inmates, are pulling this huge ship which by the way looked like slavery to me and his first encounter with Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). There are so many turning points for me in this movie. First, we’ve seen how society despises Jean as a dangerous man whom after being paroled failed to find a job and made him realized that he cannot live as “Jean Valjean” anymore. I’m already holding back my tears during his encounter with the bishop where he vows to be a better and honest man and ultimately breaking his parole.
Several years had passed, and we see Javert with his “obsession” towards Jean Valjean; the introduction to Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) character and her unwavering love for her child young Cosette (Isabelle Allen). Now, few people wonders what it is about the Thenardiers and Cosette. Fantine leaves Cosette under the care of corrupt innkeeper couple – M. and Madame Thenardier. The Thenardier’s spoils their daughters Eponine and Azelma (Azelma was taken out on this movie) while abuses and enslaves the young Cosette. In the book, they would lie to Fantine saying that it’s cold and Cosette needed a new pair of shoes but the shoes is actually meant for Eponine, or Cosette’s sick, anything that the Thenardier can extract payment from the naïve Fantine. So that’s the back story in there why is Fantine’s working so hard for her illegitimate child. And we’ve seen a little bit of this when they finally introduced M. Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter). Though in the book, I didn’t feel that much pain when Fantine gave up her two front teeth and had her hair cut off; in the film however, it felt so real while losing those beautiful hairs of her, you can see it in her eyes. But the real turning point in Fantine’s journey in the movie (and in the book) is when Fantine was finally succumbed to the realm of prostitution. It’s a big deal for every women because yes, I love myself but I have a kid who needs my support and she’s the reason why I can’t be with her right now, I have to work and I just have to do everything for her… but to do that I have to “abuse” myself. At one point in the book, she offered herself to Jean Valjean. And someone asked me this: “stealing a loaf of bread, selling her hair and teeth, prostitution, why? What is the matter with all those stuffs?” – And from my point of view: “that is the way how the society work back then”. The Thenardiers on the other hand, is here for fun. Don’t worry, those gross stuffs didn’t happen in the book! It’s funny how M. Thenardier’s unable to address Cosette properly on several occasions.
Now, we’ve witnessed a grown-up versions of Cosette (Amanda Seyfried); Eponine (Samantha Barks) and the introductions to Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) – a rich law student who will later on join the barricade at the French revolution after learning that Jean Valjean presumably brought Cosette to London; and the street urchin Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone). Many people didn’t know but Eponine and Gavroche are actually (drum rolls) siblings. In the book, The Thenardiers favors their two daughters Eponine and Azelma and send his eldest son, Gavroche, to live in the street believing he will have a better life in the street. Also in the book, Gavroche has two unnamed brothers and he’s able to meet them briefly purely by chance without knowing their identities. There are subtle hints on Eponine and Gavroche’s relationship in the movie. If you’re paying attention, Gavroche was caught shedding a tear when Eponine was shot and died and later on, when Gavroche died, their bodies were seen lying next to each other. And I love that scene when Javert put medal on Garvoche’s dead body – it was like accepting him as a true soldier of the uprising. Another trivia here, in the book, Gavroche was actually singing while collecting for cartridges before he is shot at the barricades and his sister Eponine is also a bit musical.
The last thirty minutes of the film is the beginning to an end. Jean Valjean had to execute Javert but instead freed him; the revolutionary had fallen; everyone is killed except Marius; and Javert confronting Jean Valjean once again. It is a defining moment for Javert who’s been living his whole life without breaking a single rule. And in the end, he sets Jean Valjean free and commits suicide. Now, I found Javert’s death overly done. When they show the aerial shot of the Siene River with this three-layered wedges, I said noooo! please don’t do this! And they did it! I would love to remember Javert’s death (just like in the book) by drowning himself in the Siene River – as simple as that. Instead, in this musical film, it looked to me that Javert died when he hit his body and broke his bones from jumping off the bridge then his body was washed away. Lol! I preferred Geoffrey Rush’s death in the 1998 film version where he shackles himself and jumped in the Siene, it is more effective – simple but more dramatic.
But the real feat here is when Fantine comes back as an angel to take Jean Valjean, walked him through to the paths of Heaven; Fantine stayed for a while for Cosette; while the bishop awaits for him at the door of the Heaven and eventually joins the spirits of everyone at the afterlife. Notice though that Javert’s wasn’t there, maybe his soul is lingering inside the Purgatory? It ended on a beautiful way the same way they opened the film with a huge scene and caught me off guard and found myself crying.
Forgive me though, I just can’t help but notice that since they are singing live and can’t cut the last scene because the drama build up is already up there, but has anybody noticed the “blocking” angle? When Fantine’s due to exit the scene and jump on to the next scene where she’s supposed to walk Jean’s spirit. She was caught by the camera, passing by, like “excusing” herself. If you have copy of the screener, you can see it on the 2:27:12 – 2:27:18 mark. Don’t get the wrong idea here, I’ve watched the movie in cinema, I only have this screener copy for the sake of this review.
What works and didn’t work.
The climax of the story for me is obviously when Fantine succumbed to prostitution and eventually died. I liked how Anne Hathaway did “I Dreamed a Dream”, it was very raw and there’s so much emotion in it and I felt every lyrics of it. That scene also of Cosette-Marius-Eponine is really good and heart-breaking, a bittersweet, poor Eponine!
What didn’t work on the other hand, is Russell Crowe – everything about him. I would have expected they casted someone that is manly (Geoffrey Rush from the previous film would be nice). Unfortunately, it didn’t come together, didn’t work well enough for Russell as he sounded flat throughout his performances and too nasal, I’m not a musical guru but I can tell. I expected for some actor with strong voice but not too much operatic.
Overall, the key message of this musical film is: “it is possible to change”. That purity, hope, and faith can be found in the depths of misery. Moreover, true freedom is not something you conquer, it’s not something you take or that is granted to you because you just obeyed the law. True freedom is a result of unconditional love and forgiveness.
The film has touched not just my intellect but also my heart.