Musicals aren’t typically my thing, but that isn’t to say that I haven’t enjoyed a musical or two in my day. Usually I wind up really enjoying a music when I actually watch it. The problem, I think, is the initial appeal, getting myself to actually watch one.
How I cam about seeing Les Misérables was unsurprisingly somewhat unplanned. I went along with my girlfriend and her friend. Though I admit it would be unlikely I’d choose to see the film on my own, I was still very interested in the movie from some of the things I’ve seen.
As it turned out, I was glad I went to the film. What first got my attention was the opening scene. The huge ship full of prisoners backed by a thunderous soundtrack was a great way to open this larger than life film. I soon realized that while this certainly was a musical, it was going to be so much more.
The story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who’s spent several years imprisoned for a petty crime. He’s released on parole, but almost immediately breaks it in attempt to start a new life. His new journey leads him to become mayor and a reputable business man. When one of his workers, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), is forcefully thrown into the streets by a ruthless foreman and an unruly mob of coworkers. Fantine’s life suddenly goes down a dark path, leading her to take desperate measures to provide for her daughter, Cosette.
Valjean finds himself promising Fantine that he would care for Cosette on one fateful night. Little did he know, it was only the beginning of a new chapter of his life that would last for the next several years. The infamous Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who tormented Valjean during his days as a prisoner, has always been after Valjean since he broke parole and shows no sign of backing off.
The film combines so many different sub-plots and genres, there is really something for everyone. Over the course of the film’s timeline, we see everything from Cosette growing up, Valjean constantly evading capture, and ultimately the heat of the June Rebellion. There is action, drama, love, and even some comedy in there (thanks to Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s characters). The film does a brilliant job of spanning genres while being one giant tale made up of several different lives and events.
What really made the film stand out were the acting performances. The live singing is impressive enough, with its raw and realistic feel. But the acting felt truly genuine and full of emotion. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I honestly felt like the whole cast did a superb job that deserves all of the praise they are getting.
This is a film that needs to be seen, even by those, like me, who don’t think they like musicals. The film doesn’t seem like a musical at all. It is a solid drama where the dialog just so happens to be in song. A few minutes in, I didn’t really think of it as singing, but just accepted that it was simply how they spoke in the film. This is an exquisite display of filmmaking, acting, and music all combined to be one great experience.
While I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated this film, I will say that the longer runtime did start to be apparent halfway through for me. It’s not that the film was boring, I really was invested in what was going on, but scenes did tend to drag on at times. I attribute this to the song aspect, in that a scene that may only be a minute with normal dialog might go on for 10 minutes in Les Mis due to the songs. This is a price you pay for such a unique movie experience, however.
I was pleasantly surprised by this film, despite putting my ability to stay focused and alert to the test. While it isn’t necessarily a feel-good movie, it does provide a slice of life that, despite taking place in another era, has much relevance and humanity that everyone can appreciate and be affected by.