Movie: Les Miserables (2012)

A word of warning: if you are planning to watch this movie, bring lots of tissue. I do cry easily but this movie had me sniffing within five minutes, with Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean finally getting paroled after enduring nineteen years (!) in prison  for stealing a loaf of bread for his dying nephew. And the tears continued well after the end credits that I ended up with a big headache.

The film is very much faithful to the original show, even going so far as to have the original Jean Valjean (Colm Wilkinson) from the 1985 production to play the kindly bishop of Digne. And as with all other film adaptations of theater productions, Les Miserables enjoys the full benefit of having a larger and more realistic setting. 

However, at almost three hours long, only the first hour and the last five minutes or so got me excited and tuned in. The first act had me glued to my seat – starting with the opening song “Look Down” to Fantine’s (portrayed by Anne Hathaway) death and Jean Valjean rescuing Cosette from the Thenardiers. The rest felt like a drag and there were moments when I kept looking at my watch and thinking, would it be so bad of me to leave  a few minutes before the movie ends?

For sure, the acting of Hathaway and Jackman were superb, as with most of the supporting cast (yes, even Russell Crowe, though his singing was generally panned by critics). But I wasn’t too pleased with the singing overall. I was actually disappointed with Jackman’s voice as I was expecting it to be powerful and riveting. He wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t help but fear his voice would break anytime and his falsetto can be off putting at times. Hathaway’s version of “I Dreamed A Dream” is worth every hype and has almost guaranteed her that Oscar statue, but still, it lacked that punch for me.

Surprisingly,  Samantha Bark’s version of the heartbreaking “On My Own” and “A Little Fall of Rain” failed to incite in me the same emotions I felt when I heard her sing it during the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables. While the quality of her voice is the same, she sings it at a note or so lower for the movie and in my opinion, that’s what deprived the songs of their power. 
Perhaps the best singing came from Eddie Redmayne’s Marius Pontmercy and Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette, although their love story seems so trivial in the movie.  How their love blossomed isn’t established well and feels like an overly dramatic case of infatuation. Eponine’s unrequited love for Marius becomes even more tragic and heartbreaking when pitted against this. 
Lost in the seriousness of the film is the portrayal of the Thenardiers (played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen) as comedic relief. The movie has too serious a theme to have such flamboyant and comedic scenes that you begin to question their existence in the story, and their talents are ultimately wasted – a pity, as we all know Bonham Carter can act her way out of practically anything. 
A plus point though is that the movie, despite having Hollywood written all over it, did not hide or alter the obvious religious overtones, and indeed, the end scene had Jean Valjean dying in a convent and his spirit being welcomed by the spirit of the bishop of Digne standing in what I can only assume to be a Catholic church. Neither did the film omit the use of religious symbols such as the rosary. Then again, they would have had to pretty much alter the story itself if they did away with these references to religion.

Overall though, the movie succeeds in making Les Miserables and its songs even more popular and reaching a wider audience, but somehow, in the transition from book to theater to film, the substance of the story is lost and we are left with a good movie that could have been great.

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