Some films aspire to cinematic greatness but fall short. Others manage it with seamless effort and surpass those expectations. This film is one of the holiday seasons most anticipated, and it’s not hard to understand why. However with exception to moments of magnificent passion, this is where my indulgence of this re-make ends.
Les Misérables (2012) Film Review
With no other option before him, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) steals bread to feed his family. For this desperate act, his punishment is a prison sentence. Now, following years of prison life, he pays his dues and is released on parole but finds life as a free man harsh. Unable to obtain work, he falls back into the same pattern of thievery, only this time, he’s forgiven by the kindly priest whom he stole from; a man who urges him to take his second chance and do right by it.
Years later, he changes his name and becomes a prosperous businessman but skipping out on his parole those many years ago has set the law on him again. Specifically, one man who relentlessly searches for Prisoner 24601, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).
When their paths cross in an official capacity, Valjean realizes he must again flee. His departure is delayed by a chance encounter with his former employee, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who has fallen into despair leading her to a life as a prostitute. Ill beyond medical care, Valjean promises the woman he will care for her young daughter, Cosette. With the child in tow, he makes his escape again. His life then revolves around creating a home for Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) who he couldn’t love more if she were his daughter. In time, France enters a time of unrest leading Valjean and Javert back into one another’s paths.
In the weeks leading up to the release of Les Misérables (2012), I cannot tell you the number of times it crosses my social media. Initially, the prospect of a musical version of this timeless story did seem oddly dull. However, in the hullabaloo I did become excited. Unfortunately, this version is all kinds of underwhelming. It isn’t at all what I hope it would be, and trust me when I say, I really did want to like this.‘Les Misérables’ (2012): The Popular & Pretty Movie that Doesn't Work Click To Tweet
To its credit, all of the right elements are here, including grand landscapes, music, a respected director and a phenomenal cast. It just doesn’t know how to use them to their best. Like all classics, I’ve not read the novel by Victor Hugo. I did learn this version is the closest to the novel. This makes the musical even less impacting. As a (cinematic) story, it morphs into a powerful representation of forgiveness and Christian symbolism. Here, there is a mistaken implication that the way to God is through man. The only way I know this story is by its adaptation starring Liam Neeson (without him, there’s immediately a point against this version).
Originally written as a musical, this doesn’t work, bottom line. That’s not to say it couldn’t, in fact, had they altered some things, this would be brilliant. There’s a lot of elements they skip past or brush aside in favor of a Broadway mindset. By doing this, they miss the emotion. By the time credits roll, personally, I feel far emptier than the story means to inspire. The entire film is in “song” in some form or another with only brief moments of dialogue. Much as I enjoy musicals, this belittles the impact the story should have. (Plus for some of the actors, hearing them attempt to have a conversation set to music is painful.) This also affects the beauty the musical numbers should have.
By not breaking from the music to whet our appetites for the next number, there’s no “impact” for each song. Instead everything runs together. The staging is grand, including everything from the outdoor sets to the dark, dingy streets. Costuming is also a thing of beauty with its lavish brocade patterns and hoop-skirted ladies. But now let’s talk about the cast.
Kudos to the ladies, Amanda Seyfried, and Anne Hathaway who both have lovely voices but Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe don’t always impress. Everyone in the cast is pretty good despite the flaws. There’s beauty in the small moments (like Valjean meeting Cosette), I just wish this would aspire to be greater than this. I’m just not sure it will deserve some of the awards it may win. As it stands now, the 1998 version packs a superior emotional punch, and in truth, a story like this deserves that much.
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You can find Les Misérables (2012) digitally on Amazon Video
Content: There’s at least two scenes showing inappropriately corset-clothed women working at their “trade.” One woman grabs for a man’s crotch (out of camera range) as a means of distraction. Women are fondled and we experience Fantine’s first costumer we (we see her expression of pain while the man kisses her neck). Comically, there is also a scene of a woman straddling another man, with movement. One song references sexual activity. Multiple people are dies from gunfire including one young boy; later we see men lying in their own pool of blood. Profanity is the commonplace uses including a**, h*ll, sh*t and abuse of deity. The film is PG13.