by Terrance Mc Arthur
Special coupon for Dinuba Platinum Theatre at the end of this review.
I tried to read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, once. I didn’t get very far.
I saw the stage musical of Les Miserables, once. I was really impressed.
I just saw the Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) directed film of the musical, and I cried in the emotional parts, grabbed on to the nearest hand at some shocking moments (Sorry, lady, whoever you are), and this movie is battering away at the brain cells of my memory, carving its way into permanent residence.
For those of you who hate musicals and are wondering who this guy Les is and why he’s so miserable, I will give a quick explanation while all the fans complain about the parts I’m omitting:
Near the end of Napoleon’s reign, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) serves 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread and trying to escape from custody. Falling to temptation, he steals from a kindly bishop (Colm Wilkinson, the original star of the stage musical) who forgives Valjean and sets him on a path of kindly actions. Breaking parole, Valjean becomes a businessman and a beloved mayor, but is sought by Javert (Russell Crowe), a strict-constructionist lawman who doesn’t believe in the possibility of rehabilitation. In remorse for mishandling a workplace dispute that set Fantine (Anne Hathaway) into a spiral of degradation and death, he vows to look after her child, who is in the “care” of the Thénardiers (Sasha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter), two slimy innkeepers. In 1832 Paris, the girl, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), now a beauty, attracts the eye of Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a student involved in a political revolt (Not THE French Revolution, only one of many French political upheavals that most Americans have never heard about). Marius is loved unrequitedly by Eponine Thénardier (Samantha Barks), and a lot of characters cross when the barricades arise and the fighting begins.
Hooper tells most of the film in tight close-ups that let you count Redmayne’s freckles, but the camera also soars from the depths of the slums to panoramic heights above the streets of the city. I love the stage musical, but the intimacy of the screen allows us to see more of the details and moments that would take watching many productions to catch. Onstage, there is a necessary stylization, but the grit here is real and really gritty…and it’s in your face.
Jackman appears gaunt and haggard as a prisoner, gradually acquiring a nimbus of saintliness as he strives to help others and do what is right, even if he has to knock out people and steal their clothes to do it. His singing (and almost everything is sung—this is closer to Grand Opera than My Fair Lady) creates the emotional framework for his character’s journey from hate to hope. Don’t expect metal blades to sprout from his hands, but they would have come in handy in several situations.
Crowe has a singing style that doesn’t match most of the cast, but you have to watch his eyes as he tries to understand the mercy shown by Jean Valjean. Hooper puts Crowe atop a lot of parapets and railings, walking the edges, a metaphor for Javert’s view of the law.
Seyfried (Big Love, Mamma Mia!) is supposed to look pretty and sweet, and that’s all that the role allows an actress to do, the equivalent of the Prince in classic Disney animated features. She does it. Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn) sings well, shining in the “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” number. I’m concerned that I have actually liked Sasha Baron Cohen (Borat) in two movies (Hugo and here), but he makes a wonderful scoundrel and works well with Carter in the “Master of the House” sequence (the credits list a Pickpocket Consultant, and you have to watch their moves to believe it!)
Hathaway morphs from her usual Goody-Two-Shoes image into an emaciated, dying prostitute with enough energy to sear “I Dreamed a Dream” into your heart with a boatload of Oscar buzz. She loses her job, her dignity, her hair, and her teeth (It’s in the book!), but she remains defiant against her fate.
Even if you don’t like musicals, there is something for you: (to quote The Princess Bride) Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…(OK, no giants or monsters, but you can’t have everything).
Les Miserables is currently playing at Dinuba Platinum Theatres 6. Showtimes for other shows playing in Dinuba can be found on their website.