Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review: Les Miserables

I’m not familiar with the full story of Les Miserables. I haven’t read Victor Hugo’s novel or seen an adaptation in any form. I just know about the two iconic songs from the musical and some of the characters so Tom Hooper’s film is my introduction to the material. Les Miserables is imperfect but the polished production and the strong performances will make you understand why this story captivated the hearts of many

Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is imprisoned for stealing bread for his sister’s starving children and after serving his time he was freed. But Jean had difficulty to start a new life due to the cruel terms of France’s parole system.  Valjean escapes and a few years after became a rich factory owner and politician.  But when one of his workers dies, he looks for her daughter and adopts her. But Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) locates him so he runs away once more with the child. Several years after, Jean and her now grown up adopted daughter were caught in the middle of a student uprising against the government. As the tension of the uprising escalates, Jean is conflicted whether to let her adopted daughter go as she falls in love with one of the revolutionaries and at the same time he once again faces Javert who over the years never stopped searching for him.

The much-talked about aspect of the film is the decision to let the actors sing live as opposed to lip-synching studio-recorded versions of the songs. Yes, the singing is not flawless but it really doesn’t matter as the live singing gave the film a stronger emotional impact. You would actually feel the characters’ pain and suffering when the actors belts out a song. The musical numbers that shined thanks to this style were Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream”, Jackman’s “Valjean's Soliloquy” and Eddie Redmayne’s “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”. Hooper’s close up shots during most solo numbers are quite jarring but for what is worth when it works it makes the scene more intimate and heart-wrenching

Since this is my first exposure to the full story of Les Miserables I have to admit that I got a little lost on some areas.  I felt that the film didn’t fully connect all the stories cohesively and there are parts that were underdeveloped. For example, the love affair between Cosette and Marius is weak which makes it quite hard to invest in their relationship. Apart from the “On My Own” musical number, Eponine didn’t leave much of an impression.

The biggest strength of the film is the performances of the actors. Jackman gave a career-best performance while Hathaway lived up to the hype. The rest of the supporting cast is solid but while I find Crowe’s voice good enough, he lacks the spunk to give more teeth to the character of Javert. The production aspects of the film are commendable from the superb cinematography, to the detailed costumes and the glorious production design.

There’s a reason why Les Miserables is so popular over the years and while this film is not without its flaws, it still succeeded in bringing to life one of the most-beloved stories of all time. 9 / 10

 Les Miserables opens in Philippine theaters today (January 16)

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