At the barricades of freedom; Les Miserables Movie Review

les miserablesPrisoner 24601, known as Jean Valjean, is released from prison and breaks parole to create a new life for himself while evading the grip of the persistent Inspector Javert. Set post-revolutionary France, the story reaches resolution against the background of the June Rebellion. Based on the novel by Victor Hugo and the well-known Broadway musical.

IMDB

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The story begins with the protagonist Jean Valjean being released from prison after being a prisoner for 19 years. He was jailed for stealing a loaf of bread. His original sentence was only 5 years but they added 14 more because he tried to escape. After being released he goes to a church to seek refuge. A kind bishop gives him water and drink and a place to stay. Instead of thanking the bishop for his kindness, he steals all the church’s silver. However, when he gets caught by the local authorities, the bishop says that he has given Valjean the silver. Even more so; he also gives him the golden candlesticks. After this act of great kindness Valjean vows to be a better man, breaking his parole and goes to live under a false name as to make a new life for himself.

Eight years later he a wealthy factory owner and the mayor of a little town called Montreuil-sur-mer. One day, one of his workers, Fantine, has a fight with another worker when she discovers that Fantine is hiding an illegitimate daughter with an Innkeeper and his wife. Fantine is unceremoniously thrown out on the street. In order to make money to support her child she sells her hair and teeth and becomes a prostitute. When she is on the verge of death, Valjean discovers her and vows that he will take care of her daughter, Cosette. Meanwhile, Javert, who is a dedicated policeman, discovers that the ‘mayor’ is actually Valjean and tries to get him re-arrested. But, before Javert can do so, Valjean pays off the innkeeper – Thénardier-  for Cosette and takes her away to Paris.

Another eight years later, Cosette is a young woman living in Paris with her father. It is the dawn of the French Revolution and the city is in upheaval because General Lamarque, the only one who would speak up for the people, may soon die. Young students and workers are planning for the revolution while the Thénardiers are working scams with their daughter Éponine. Marius, one of the rebels who Éponine is desperately in love with, bumps into Cosette and immediately falls in love with her. But their love is short lived when Valjean takes Cosette away and Marius and his friend Eljoras begin planning for the revolution.

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I’ll leave the story at that. This is roughly the first act so there’s loads more after this.

I have been waiting to see this movie for ages and I was really excited when I was able to watch it on Saturday morning. Because I had been waiting to see this movie for so long, my expectations were really very high. Not all of my expectations were met. A lot of them were, some of them weren’t.

I have read in a lot of reviews that the second part of the movie (when the Revolution starts) is better than the first part of the movie. I do have to agree with that. In the first movie it’s mainly Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Javert (Russel Crowe) singing. I expected a lot from Hugh Jackman and less from Russel Crowe but I have to say that in the end, I liked Crowe better than I did Jackman. I’m not saying that he’s a bad singer, not at all. But, when he sings he has a very heavy vibrato (if that’s what you call it, I don’t know) which makes long notes .. I don’t know.. wobble? It’s the difference between stretching a note (begiiiiiiiiiiiin) vs repeating the sounds (begihihihihihin). Some singers so that, some don’t. I, however, am not fond of it. This is also why ‘Bring him home’ was completely ruined for me. Plus, he doesn’t have the ability to reach the high notes that come with that song.

Just have to say, I loved that they payed homage to the original cast by getting Colm Wilkinson, who is the original Jean Valjean, to play the Bishop in this movie. Absolutely brilliant.

I say that the second part of the movie was better but it misses one thing that the first part of the movie does have. And, that is Anne Hathaway. She was absolutely brilliant in the role of Fantine. She moved me to tears straight away. I’m serious, if she doesn’t get an Oscar for this performance I’m going to.. ehrm.. pout like a small child. No, but seriously, she was amazing. Perfect. The fact that she actually had her head sheared while filming is a level of dedication that I have not seen from anyone else. Just.. wow. Brava.

A big song in the first part of the movie is Master of the House’ performed by mr and mrs Thénardier (Sasha Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter). I thought that Sasha Cohen was great. And how they worked out the scene with stealing all the stuff from their guests was really funny. But, I thought that Helena Bonham Carter was perhaps still a bit stuck in her Mrs. Lovett role from Sweeney Todd. They were very similar anyway. I also thought that she could have done more with her singing bit. It’s supposed to be really loud and funny but she made it small and mumble-y.

Then, the second part of the movie starts out with the introduction of Gavroche. And I love Gavroche. Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone) is a small boy who fights for the revolution. He is quick and cunning and funny. He’s also adorable. Props to Daniel for a perfect performance.

The rebels, which include Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Eljoras (Aaron Tveit) were great. Really good singing voices. Red & Black was suddenly my favourite song. A lot of people are saying that Ramin Karimloo should have played Eljoras. I have to admit that Ramin has a stunning voice (and he is a stunning man) but Aaron Tveit was perfectly fine as Eljoras. He was passionate and his voice was in no way bad. Eddie Redmayne was also really good. His time to shine was definitely at the song ‘Empty chairs and empty tables’ which was very emotional. That’s where I thought; ‘yes, he’s a great Marius’.

Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) was a bit bland, I thought. Amanda has a lovely singing voice and the light and fluttery sound that she has fitted very well with the innocent and virtuous Cosette. But still, there could have been a bit more power in her voice.

Next, I want to talk a little about the live recording. A part of what makes this musical so special is that all the songs were recorded live, while shooting the movie. So no singing in studios and lip syncing afterwards. Overall, this gives really raw performances with lots of emotions and it works out great. But, with big songs like ‘One Day More‘ and ‘Do You Hear The People Sing‘ I found it lacked power and those songs are the ones that should be really powerful. So, I was a bit disappointed there but not a lot because it was still amazing and I was still chocking back tears. The live recording technique does work with small, intimate songs like ‘a little fall of rain’. Because it is so sad and heartbreaking.

This brings me to Éponine who is played by the beautiful Samantha Barks. Samantha also plays Éponine on stage so it’s guaranteed that her singing is up to par. She really is amazingly beautiful. What else can I say.. I love her.

My absolute favourite part of the whole movie was the Finale. It was perfectly done and so beautifully sung. This is when I gave up on not trying to cry and just stated bawling. Man.. I’m still getting tears in my eyes thinking back on it.  It was absolutely perfect, seeing all the people that were lost standing on an giant barricade singing not for war but for peace for those who have died during the revolution.

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
and the sun will rise

They will live again in freedom
in the garden of the Lord.
They will walk behind the ploughshare;
they will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
and all men will have their reward.

In the end, it’s a good movie. Of course, it will never reach the level of singing that the stage performance has. You can watch the 10th anniversary or the 25th anniversary of Les Miserables and you will know what I mean. A big discussion with this movie is if they should have used stronger singers instead of going for ‘big names’ and perhaps they should have. Russel Crowe was perfectly fine as Javert but it definitely could have been stronger. Anyway, it’s an amazing film that left me in tears. As soon as it’s out on DVD I will buy it and watch it till my tears run dry.

Rating: 4 /5

LesMisBarricade

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Author: EMK

Just blogging away in my free time while I try to make something of my life

4 thoughts on “At the barricades of freedom; Les Miserables Movie Review”

  1. Tell me, how are the songs in the broadway shows? I ended up reading Les Miserables b/c of all the hub-bub about the film and I’m considering watching the broadway musicial if the book satisfies me and if the songs aren’t too show-tuney.

  2. I definitely wouldn’t classify the songs as show-tuney. As you know, the story is tragic and that does translate to the songs. The ‘Master of the House’ song is the only upbeat one in the bunch. I think it’s definitely worth seeing!

    You could always take a look at the 10th or 25th anniversary concerts. The links of those are in the blog, way at the end. It’s not the actual musical with sets and acting and stuff but it could give you an idea of the songs.

  3. I was a big fan of the Original cast recordings, and loved the show on stage (saw it twice, Toronto and London), so for me the film was a constant “Not as good/Almost as good/slightly better” battle. I tend to agree with your view of the performances but think that Cosette is a poor part. She is an utterly passive character, passed from Fantine to Valjean and then to Marius like some kind of party favour. Her song to Marius when he’s recovering could be summed up as “All your friends are dead, but I’m pretty!”

  4. I’m currently enjoying the version that was made in 2000 with Gérard Depardieu and John Malkovich. It’s pretty darn good! I can’t really get into musicals so I think I’ll stick with this version for the moment, must read the book at some stage too!

    Take care 🙂

    Rohan.

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