An ensemble cast leads this newest iteration of Les Miserables which is based on the musical that’s based on the acclaimed Victor Hugo novel. A story of grace, redemption, poverty, politics, and social critiques, Les Mis, as some refer to it, has been called one of the greatest novels ever written, and the French musical that started it all became a global phenomenon after its lyrics were translated to English. It’s with great expectations that the newest version, directed by Tom Hooper who won Best Movie for last year’s King’s Speech, would hit theaters with a rabid fanbase waiting to see if Les Miserables would be le magnifique.
Set in poverty-stricken 19th century France, Les Miserables follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) journeying forward from the harsh imprisonment he’s suffered for 19 years. Paroled and forced to carry papers branding him a dangerous convict, the embittered Valjean finally finds quarter in the home of a priest who shows him a stunning act of grace and mercy. The repentant Valjean changes his name and takes on a new persona which, years later, helps him become a successful factory owner and mayor of a small village. It also brings him face to face with his former prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) who reports for duty as the village’s newest police inspector.
Plot-wise, it’s a retelling of an epic story spanning years during a violent and dark time in human history. The French Revolution saw the people of France overthrow their royals with kidnappings and beheadings. In the midst of the social and political upheavals, Valjean’s actions and deeds changes the lives of those around him, and the results vary. For the driven Javert, whose dedication to the law and justice keeps him relentlessly pursuing Valjean, an act of grace shatters his world leaving him unable to cope with the new reality in which he lives in. For the noble Marius (Eddie Redmayne), Valjean’s intercession saves his life and enriches it. As a musical, Les Mis’ time-tested songs are powerfully moving though the delivery isn’t always effective — Crowe who’s shown intensity in previous roles is the drabbest of the bunch while female leads Anne Hathaway (Fantine) and Samantha Barks (Eponine) perform moving and intricate ballads with visceral and gut-wrenching efficacy. The cinematography with its shaky-cam and extreme closeups are a little jarring, but it also keeps singers center-screen which is where eyes want to be during the performances. For all of its flaws, technical and performance, the experience still soars. As a whole, Les Miserables is a worthy bearer of the name, and its messages of grace, love, and hope told through cinema rings loud and clear.