Monday, July 15, 2013

Movie Review: Les Miserables (2012)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Great performances and amazing music
Cons: Some shaky camera work and a tad too much singing
The Bottom Line
Powerful story
Love, mercy, redemption all
Flow through the movie

Powerful Musical Brought to the Screen

I call myself a musical fan, but there are several big ones I've never actually seen.  One of those is Les Miserables, although I have now corrected that at least a little by seeing the new movie version.

The story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman).  As the movie opens, he is finally being set free after serving a 19 year sentence.  But he finds that jobs are hard to come by to an ex-convict.  He is offered shelter in a church, but he repays that by stealing their silver.  When he is shown grace and mercy the next morning, it changes his life.

When we next see him, he has become a wealthy man, a position he uses to help others.  But when he misses an opportunity with the young woman Fantine (Anne Hathaway), he vows to watch over her daughter Cosette.

All the while, he has to watch out for the policeman Javert (Russell Crow).  See, Jean Valjean broke the conditions of his parole, and Javert is determined to see him face justice again.  Will he do that?  Or will his new life come tumbling down around him?

I'd heard how powerful the story is, and that is correct.  It's amazing how quickly you come to care for all the characters in the film.  Yes, even Javert.  He is doing his job even if he is a bit too harsh about it.

And I can see why this musical has been so popular for so long.  It is amazing.  There are so many great songs here, and they are all powerfully sung.  In fact, this movie is different in that the actors were actually singing as they were being filmed instead of recording the soundtrack months before hand and then lip syncing to the playback.  I do think that gave the film a much more authentic feel, which really kept the story real.  The orchestra that was then recorded later is still amazing.  Trust me, you don't miss a thing by this approach.

I've have heard people saying that this actor or that actor was the weak link in the film.  And for fans of the show, I can see how someone might not live up to their idea of the character or favorite performance.  As a newbie to the story, I certainly couldn't find any flaws with the performances or the singing.  Everyone was great, and I got lost in the story.

Now this isn't to say I don't have a few complaints about the film.  First, there was some shaky camera work, especially in the second half.  I'm still not a fan, and this didn't help.  However, I will say this was prevalent.  It was noticeable when they used it, but most of the film wasn't so bad.

Secondly, I really would have liked some talking.  Yes, I know it's a musical, but they could have bridged some of the scenes with some dialogue.  I think the actors agreed with me because some of their singing was more talking in a couple of scenes.  There is just some exposition that can be said instead of sung.  Having said that, some of the scenes that I wouldn't have considered for songs if I'd been doing this made for some great songs here, especially in the second half.

The movie is two and a half hours, and I feel emotionally drained now that I've seen it.  But it was so worth it.  Whether you know and love the music or are new the experience, go see Les Miserables.  You won't be disappointed.

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