Friday, January 18, 2013

Les Misérables (2012) - A Genuine Classic Film

Les Misérables (2012) - This "Le Miz" is the Gold Standard Version of Victor Hugo's Masterpiece

Les Miserables DVD cover
Les Misérables (2012).

"Les Misérables" (2012) is adapted from the classic 1862 French novel of the same name by , who is also known for his much earlier novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Anyone familiar at all with Broadway knows that "Les Misérables" is almost a permanent tenant there, going away on vacation every so often but always returning (it resumes there again in early 2014).

Les Miserables Broadway promo
The ubiquitous Broadway promo for "Les Misérables."

The first French theatrical production was in 1980, and the original London production was in 1985, with Broadway itself following in 1987. "Les Misérables" ran until 2003 (after changing theaters in 1990), an astonishing eighteen years straight - but even that only scratches the surface of the musical's impact on the theater world.

Film poster Les Misérables (2012)
"Les Misérables" film poster.

Basically, you were not able to walk very far in New York City over the past thirty years without at some point seeing some poster or ad or subway card that had that familiar "Les Misérables" advertisement (as on the poster above). The point of mentioning the stage history is to hammer home for those who may not be aware that "Les Misérables" is not some sudden phenomenon: instead, it is the classic "overnight sensation" that took over thirty years to build. The wonder is not that "Les Misérables" was adapted into a high-profile film and that the film was a huge success, but that it took so long to do it. and in particular sparkle in this version of "Les Misérables," but the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.

Hugh Jackman as Valjean Les Misérables (2012)
Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in "Les Misérables."

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who stole bread to feed his sister's hungry children and was thrown in jail for nineteen years (five originally, but extended multiple times for attempted escapes), finally is released on parole from prison in 1815 by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Needing food and shelter, he accepts the hospitality of the Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson). Stealing the Bishop's silverware during the night, Valjean is caught by the police, but the Bishop protects him by claiming that he gave the silver to Valjean as a gift. Released, Valjean vows to live honestly, but being watched by the police stifles him. He assumes a new identity, breaking his parole and assuming a new name. Javert makes it his personal mission to find the fugitive Valjean and send him back to jail.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine Les Misérables (2012)
Anne Hathaway as Fantine in "Les Misérables."

Eight years pass, and Valjean, now known as Madeleine, becomes a successful factory owner and mayor of his small town. Fantine (Anne Hathaway), one of Valjean's workers, sends money to her illegitimate daughter, Cossette (), who lives with the Thénardiers ( and ) and their daughter Éponine (). The Thénardiers abuse Cossette. Fantine's foreman () finds out that Fantine is an unwed mother and fires her.

Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway in real life.

To support her daughter, Fantine becomes a prostitute. When a man attacks her, Fantine fights back, but Fantine is the one arrested by Javert, who just saw her responding to the man and not the man's provocation. Valjean steps in and secures Fantine's release and has Fantine hospitalized. Valjean then finds out that a man believed to be him has been arrested. After much soul-searching, Valjean reveals his identity to the court. Javert tries to arrest him immediately, but Valjean slips away, going to the hospital to promise the dying Fantine that he will personally look after Cosette. Fulfilling this pledge, Valjean pays off the Thénardiers so that they will let him have Cosette, and provides her with a new home.

Russell Crowe as Javert Les Misérables (2012)
Javert responding to the student uprising in "Les Misérables."

Nine years pass, and times are bad. With the only government official sympathetic to the poor, Jean Maximilien Lamarque, dying, two students, Marius Pontmercy () and Enjolras () discuss a rebellion with young street beggar Gavroche (). Marius randomly sees Cosette () pass by and is attracted to her. At home, Valjean refuses to discuss Fantine or anything else about her past with Cosette.

Valjean and Fantine Les Misérables (2012)
Valjean and Fantine in "Les Misérables."

Lamarque dies, and frustrated students led by Enjolras gather at a café. Marius, meanwhile, is determined to find Cosette, and it turns out that his friend Éponine knows her location. He finds her, and they fall in love. Éponine, though, also secretly loves Marius, and, distraught, she decides to throw her lot in with the revolutionary students. Valjean's home is burglarized, and, thinking that Javert has found him again, he leaves to start life over somewhere else again. Marius sends Cosette a farewell letter while Enjolras stirs up the students.

Cosette comforts Marius Les Misérables (2012)
Cosette and Marius in "Les Misérables."

The next day, during Lamarque's funeral procession, the revolt begins as the students barricade off a city square. Javert goes undercover to spy on the rebels, but Gavroche recognizes him and arranges his capture by the students. Éponine saves Marius' life during a gunfight, but dies herself after professing her love. Valjean, reading Marius' letter to Cosette, goes down to the rebel headquarters to see Marius. After heroically saving Enjolras from gunfire, he is given the honor of killing Javert, but Valjean, despite all that has happened, cannot do it and releases Inspector Javert.

Marius fighting Les Misérables (2012)
Marius prepared for battle in "Les Misérables."

The rebellion fails because the workers are apathetic and the government forces too powerful, but the students fight on to the death. Marius alone survives but is unconscious. Valjean, at great personal risk to himself, pulls Marius into the sewer to save him. Thénardier shows up, scavenging the dead rebels for profit, and steals Marius' ring. Valjean then carries Marius out of the sewer but immediately runs into Inspector Javert, who orders Valjean to drop Marius and surrender. Valjean refuses. Javert, faced with either having to kill the man who saved his life or fail to do his duty, shoots himself instead.

Javert Les Misérables (2012)
Russell Crowe as Javert, ready for battle in "Les Misérables."

Marius, not knowing yet how he escaped from the fighting alive, awakens and reunites with Cosette. Valjean tells Marius that he, Valjean, must leave, as he is a danger to Cosette, and explains the reasons. Before leaving, he forces Marius never to reveal his secrets to Cosette. Marius and Cosette marry, but Thénardier appears, uninvited, and proclaims that Valjean is a murderer because he saw Valjean carrying a corpse through the sewer. He shows the ring he stole from Marius as proof. Seeing the ring, Marius suddenly understands what happened - that Valjean saved him - and, learning Valjean's location from Thénardier, goes off with Cosette to find Valjean. They don't know if they are too late, though. because Valjean was despondent at losing Cosette and was ready to die.

Marius and the revolutionaries Les Misérables (2012)
The early stages of a revolt are often pretty, before the dead bodies begin piling up.

Simply knowing the plot of "Les Misérables" does not convey its power as a musical. There are a full 50 musical numbers in "Les Misérables," and while they are not all show-stoppers, quite a few are. The composers Herbert Kretzmer, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Alain Boublil created an overwhelming score that overpowers just about every other musical, and any aspiring musical prodigy learns "Les Misérables" selections early on. Just about every song from the musical is included in the film, though many are shortened, some severely. The singers are terrific, and while the film does not quite capture the excitement of seeing Les Misérables on stage, the cast of the film version is impeccable. The songs never grow old, talk to theater buffs around New York City, and one of the few shows even the jaded types get excited about seeing repeated times is "Les Misérables." Anne Hathaway even had a radio hit with her version of "I Dreamed A Dream," which is pretty phenomenal considering all the talent that has taken on Fantine over the decades. Anne Hathaway is up for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and is as pure a lock for that award as anyone ever has been, which must be especially satisfying because her mother also played Fantine in one of the first United States productions.

Eddie Redmayne Les Misérables (2012)
Eddie Redmayne in "Les Misérables."

If you are familiar with the musical numbers, you won't be disappointed at all by Hathaway or anyone else in the cast; and if you aren't familiar with the songs, you will be delighted to hear them for the first time. The songs were recorded with the actors singing first accompanied by a piano, then later a full orchestra backing was added. This is the reverse of normal, is a sort of quasi-live way of performing that actually has a long history in film to give well-known material a "live" and fresh sound.

Javert with the dead Les Misérables (2012)
Javert walking past the dead in "Les Misérables."

"Le Miz," as everybody in the theater world calls it, has been in development since the 1980s, when Bruce Beresford signed on as director. At some point during the early 1990s, though, the project was abandoned for murky reasons. It revived temporarily in 2005, but then lapsed again. Sir Cameron Mackintosh worked on this project throughout this extended period, and finally, in 2010, was able to move forward in earnest. Tom Hooper was hired as Director for producer Cameron Mackintosh and the production company, Working Title Films (a tiny subsidiary of NBC that handles big film projects). was brought on to adapt the musical by . Location filming took place in England in Greenwich, London, Winchester and Portsmouth, and also Gourdon, France. Cameron Mackintosh is the man who made all this happen. He also produced "Phantom of the Opera" and "Cats," so you know he is a titan of Broadway and Hollywood. There have been other, lesser versions of "Les Misérables" produced over the years - anyone with money can do it, "Les Misérables" is public domain - but this musical version preserved in this film is the gold standard.

Anne Hathaway Les Misérables (2012)
Anne Hathaway is stunning as Fantine in "Les Misérables."

"Les Misérables" is a true blockbuster among musicals, packed with sincere emotion. Because of the musical's impact over the past thirty years, actors hunger for the chance to play those roles, and they have had decades to absorb the parts and think about how they might play them. Don't believe anything you hear about anyone turning down roles in this, the producers had their pick and being selected for this film was something each actor involved will treasure forever. This is the project that will give everyone involved extra status among their colleagues, much more so than, say, any role in "Alice in Wonderland" or "X-Men: The Last Stand." There is humor, heartbreak, action and compassion. There are some minor problems with the direction - Hooper is an aggressive director who tends to move the camera around a lot, which is a bit uncomfortable for people who are used to seeing this seated in a theater with that static view - but Hathaway completely seals the deal with her singing and emotional portrayal of the doomed Fantine. Eddie Redmayne captures the youthful vigor and exuberance of Marius nicely. Hugh Jackman projects his usual charisma as Valjean in a completely different context than his usual comic-book films, really demonstrating his full range as an actor that may surprise some fans of his Wolverine" alter ego.

Russell Crowe Javert Les Misérables 2012
Russell Crowe doing a Britney Spears "Toxic" tribute in "Les Misérables."

Russell Crowe doesn't get much praise for his performance as Inspector Javert, but he does a fine job in an essentially thankless role. The Inspector Javert character is the heavy, and nobody will mourn him. However, in many ways Javert is the heart of the entire production, as everyone else has a set agenda, and he is the one who must change. Crowe's singing voice is fine. While it may pale next to the booming professional opera singers who often tackle the Javert role in high-profile musicals, Crowe sounds great to the average non-professional listener. In fact, if there is one unexpected standout in "Les Misérables," it is Crowe. Everyone expected Anne Hathaway to do well, and Jackman does his usual good job as Valjean, but Crowe captures the conflicting emotions inside of the doomed Javert to perfection, and his singing really is the pleasant surprise of "Les Misérables." The best images of "Les Misérables" are of Crowe as Javert, attending to his duty competently but learning the hard way the extreme cost of blind adherence to black-and-white rules and procedures.

Sir Cameron Mackintosh Les Misérables (2012)
Sir Cameron Mackintosh must have been delighted at the success of the film version of "Les Misérables."

So, what is the big deal about "Les Misérables"? In terms of quality and lasting impact, "Les Misérables" is the film of the year for 2012. It has everything that will entertain anybody who is open to the classics. We are not all able to get to Broadway or London or even another nearby major city to see quality productions like "Les Misérables" put on by the cream of the theater crop. Now, you don't have to. You owe it to yourself to give "Les Misérables" a chance. Go and see the film "Les Misérables" on cable when you can, or get it on DVD!


No comments:

Post a Comment