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Review: Les Misérables

Universal Pictures: Hugh Jackman in "Les Misérables"I haven’t been to too many on-stage performances, but I have enjoyed them whenever I’ve attended them. For some reason, one of the plays that I’ve never seen is a popular one called Les Misérables. Even before I knew what it was about I wanted to see it. The poster of the young blonde girl that’s been around for as long as I can remember has always intrigued me. She kind of has an innocent look on her face that shows youthfulness, but you get a sense that stress and fear are burdens that she must continuously endure.

Maybe that’s why I’ve wanted to see this musical ever since I was a child? Maybe as kids, we can bond with other kids and feel their pain. It makes sense when you look at the fact that this is a time in our lives where we’re still figuring out what life is and we’re decipher the differences that exist between reality and fantasy. This lack of understanding can be what may assist us in our development in life as not everything is actively (or accurately) explained to us in detail at this point and time.

I guess when you take a look at Les Misérables, that’s truly the essence of the story that’s clearly at the center of attention more than anything else. The film opens up with Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as a prisoner working on a boat that’s being overseen by Javert (Russell Crowe), a policeman who lives by the letter of the law and will do all that he can to uphold it. Jean and his fellow inmates are feverishly working while singing a song that manage to stick in my head for a few days. Jean and the other convicts are not happy with what they’re ordered to do, but of course, they have no choice.

Valjean on the other hand, soon receives some positive news when he’s told that he’s being let out on parole. In his mind, he knows he’ll never return to prison, and he vows to change his life for the better. That’s all fine and dandy, but he’s going to have to do it Javert’s way. The tyrannical policeman doesn’t think the convict can change and vows to be there to apprehend him when the time comes so he can haul him back to prison once and for all.

The recently paroled ex-con knows that he can’t afford to slip up again, but he also doesn’t want to continue feeling like a prisoner while he’s outside of prison. With that in mind, Jean Valjean decides to do something that’s very risky. He chooses to break his parole by leaving and attempt to remake himself over again with a new life.

Upon breaking his parole, the long running fugitive now has to make subtle movements and not draw too much attention to himself in order to avoid his ever persistent rival Javert, as he continues his quest to live out his existence as a new man, in a new environment. Officer Javert hasn’t forgotten, and will forever have the man that he’s controlled and lorded over when he had him in lock down for nineteen years in his mind.

While the officer has the desire to lock him up and throw away the key, Jean Valjean moves on to the next phase of his journey on this planet and meets a young woman who works at a factory named Fantine (Anne Hathaway). After getting to know her back story, the new Valjean decides to help care for Cosette, Fantine’s ten-year old daughter. Jean begins to look at his life differently than he did at any other point in his life. He sees the added responsiblity and fully understands that his heart is telling him to do all he can to help provide for the young lady with the hopes of her growing into a fine adult one day.

His thoughtful act of kindness is most certainly a noble one, but like raising any child, it won’t be easy. That’s especially true for Valjean when you think about the predicament that he’s unable to shake himself out of. Javert is still on his trail and still plans on bringing him to justice by any mean necessary. As they learn first hand, this entire adventure changes the lives of everyone who becomes connected to the situations, and it also tells the tale of love, loyalty, determination, hope and a major quest for redemption.

With Les Misérables being a musical, it’s clear to everyone that they’re about to walk into a film with a good bit of singing. Like most of you I obviously knew what I was about to see, but I didn’t expect the singing to be continuous. I thought there would be at least some pauses where the actors would actually have conversations, but that’s not how it all came to pass. There are a couple of times where I thought they’d talk it out after the first word or two came out of the person’s mouth, but the person would immediately go into song every single time.

Everyone in the film has to sing, and that includes my boy Russell Crowe. This award-winning actor has been doing it all throughout his career and he never has any qualms about taking risks. I admire that about him, but it’s too bad I can’t say the same thing about his singing voice. When it comes to busting out a tune, Crowe has a voice made for silent movies. He sounds like he has a cold and his mouth stuffed with food. I can respect him for trying, but it’s bad when you sing worse than me.

Jackman on the other hand, is more hit or miss. There are times when his voice is solid and holds up well, but there are also a few occasions where it’s below par. Anne Hathaway shows that she’s at least an okay singer, but Amanda Seyfried is the best out of every one of the major players in this Les Misérables musical. Her voice is relatively smooth and it sounds like there’s a chance that she’s had some experience with singing before taking on this project.

As far as the actual acting is concerned, I believe that virtually everyone who’s anyone in Les Misérables put a large amount of effort into their performances. While mentioning that, the quality acting actually made it more awkward when watching it all go down the way it did. I kept thinking to myself that this movie would have been better had the actors actually spoke rather than sung through the whole thing. Maybe if they would have been allowed to speak every once in a while (Like some other musicals), I would view this in a more positive light.

Although the actors do their best and put on adequate performances, it’s hard taking much of this seriously when you have Crowe and Jackman singing the whole time. I know I’m not supposed to admit this, but I don’t know if I’d ever be able to wrap my mind around them starring in these types of roles that they have here. You’re talking about a guy that starred as a vicious gladiator in ancient Rome, while the other made his name as Wolverine, Marvel’s legendary comic book anti-hero.

Speaking of Wolverine, I’d like to share this tidbit that I learned with my readers. Obviously, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe play adversaries in this film, but in reality the two Australian born actors are linked together in a more pleasant fashion. Not too many people seem to know this, but director Bryan Singer originally went after Crowe to play Wolverine in the X-Men film series that debuted back in 2000. Crowe however, had to turn the role down as he chose to star as Maximus Decimus Meridius, his award-winning role in Gladiator. After turning it down, he suggested Jackman for the part, and that’s how he got his big break.

Anyway, before I bring this review to a close, I want to talk about something else in Les Misérables that bothers me. It something that may not bug anybody else, but I hate the fact that the film is supposed to be in France, but everyone that I can remember has British accents. With names Like Jean Valjean, Javert and Cosette, it seems like these people are French. You’re born in France, you have French names, but you somehow have British accents. How does this happen again?

I’m assuming most people will ignore this just like they did with Martin Scoresese’s 2011 flick Hugo, but is it really so hard to make these guys at least sound French? I mean they’re already speaking English for crying out loud. The least you can do is give them French accents. For some reason, this continuously irks me when I see this happen in movies. I don’t know why they don’t fix this problem. You have actors faking different accents from around the world all the time.  If you do it with everyone else, you can do it with the French too.

The on-stage version of Les Misérables has been seen by sixty million people in forty-two countries and in twenty-one languages through its twenty-seven years of existence. It’s clearly very successful, and as popular as it still is to this day, I fully expect its fans to check out this latest film adaptation. You’ll already know what it’s about, you might know the songs and I honestly think that you’ll probably be able to bond with this film because of that.

Some day, I may just go and see the play live, but this 2012 film version of Les Misérables didn’t convince me to that. There are good parts when you look at the acting and the portion that introduces Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter, but as I said earlier the lack of singing talent is the reason why it suffers a bit in my eyes. I couldn’t rate this movie negatively or positively, because the good and bad allows the film to come out evenly.

Score: 2.5/5

Rating: PG-13

Director: Tom Hooper

Hugh Jackman
Russell Crowe
Anne Hathaway
Amanda Seyfried
Eddie Redmayne
Aaron Tveit
Samantha Barks
Helena Bonham Carter
Sacha Baron Cohen

Film Length: 158 minutes

Release Date: December 25, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

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