Sunday, December 30, 2012

Les Misérables

I saw Les Misérables with my family on Christmas day. I decided not to write down my thoughts right away because I have this tendency to get over excited about movies that I enjoyed immediately after seeing them. I know what you're thinking. Me? Excited? Something's not right there. But, yes, I do get excited sometimes. I wait because I don't want to describe a movie as inappropriately awesome when it turns out to be less than awesome a few days later, after the whole thing really sinks in.

So I've waited to share my thoughts on Les Misérables. As it turns out, my thoughts about it have not changed. This movie was amazing. There are lots of superlatives that could be used to describe it. Some other good ones I've heard are phenomenal, fantastic and, of course, awesome.

Before this, my only real exposure to Les Misérables was the version with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush that was made back in 1998. That version wasn't the musical. It was just a film based on the book written by Victor Hugo. And I remember thinking it was kind of depressing. And I don't remember much more about it. The only scene that really sticks out in my mind is at the end when Geoffrey Rush's Javert commits suicide. The rest of it is kind of a boring blur.

I'm really glad I did not let that movie taint my view of Les Misérables. Of course I've heard the music from the stage show before. I've never seen it performed on stage, but I have a CD with highlights from the original cast. For a while there, it seemed like On My Own was the go to song for just about any girl looking to perform a solo. And, thanks to Susan Boyle, pretty much everyone in the English speaking world has heard I Dreamed a Dream.

I can't compare this new film to Broadway, or even off-Broadway. But I can keep describing it as amazing, phenomenal, fantastic, awesome. I can see Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway getting Oscar nominations for their roles. And I'll probably be more than a little disappointed if Hathaway doesn't win hers. As Fantine, her story is told fairly early on in the movie. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the tears began. Anne Hathaway doesn't get a great deal of screen time, but what she has is powerful. Her life is tragic. She belts out I Dreamed a Dream with an incredible amount of emotion. I dare anyone seeing that scene not to cry just a little. I don't have a soul and I cried like a little girl.

Hugh Jackman plays the main character, Jean Valjean, who we follow from start to finish. He's a sympathetic criminal who, at first, seems unable to escape the cycle of crime that keeps him at the bottom of humanity's barrel. But an act of kindness from a bishop turns his life completely around. Valjean decides to start a new life with a new identity, refusing to allow his past to define the man he should be. After this, Valjean shows mercy to his fellow man over and over again. It's his way of living the grace that he knows God has given to him.

He even shows this mercy to his relentless pursuer, Javert, played kind of flatly by Russell Crowe. I don't mean to belittle Crowe's performance here. I think he's a good actor. But he doesn't seem like he's used to singing and acting simultaneously. And that's not to say there's anything against his singing voice either. But the way this movie was filmed was different than most musicals you see on the big screen. None of the songs (and every line of dialogue is delivered in song) were lip synched by the actors. They were sung on set, just as if they were delivering regular lines of spoken dialogue. The emotion delivered so easily by Hathaway and Jackman just wasn't there with Crowe. Again, it wasn't bad. It's just hard to compare his performance to the others.

Les Misérables tells a very sad, yet powerfully inspirational story. The movie comes in at just over 2.5 hours. I spent about 2 of those hours crying off and on. Thankfully, not all of those tears came from a depressing storyline. Despite a poverty stricken backdrop, there is an incredible message of hope to be found in the life of Jean Valjean. See this movie. That's my advice as 2012 comes to an end.

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