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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jan 21, 2013

"Les Miserables" Movie Review: Great Adaptation Of The Stage Musical

OUR first encounter with French novelist Victor Hugo’s classic work with the French revolution as background, “Les Miserables”, was in college. It has had several film (most notable was the Liam Neeson film) and TV versions (last was with Gerard Depardieu), but the most famous now is the musical that was first staged in London in 1985 and in New York in 1987. We first saw it in Sydney then in Broadway. Our reaction was it’s incredible how they made a musical out of that epic novel. But they did and its film version is now helmed by Tobe Hooper, who won the Oscar for the overrated “The King’s Speech” (we favored Fincher’s “Social Network” that year.)

His interpretation captures the heart and core of the stage production. What’s remarkable about his work is that he does not go OA in his execution of the key musical numbers. The camera just focuses in close ups of the actor’s face, like in the showstopping rendition of the play’s two most popular songs, Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream” and Eponine’s “On My Own”. The film is understandably abbreviated (at 2 hours and 40 minutes), but all the best known numbers are here, plus a new song “Suddenly” by Jean Valjean, now nominated as Oscar best song.

Visually spectacular with lavish costumes and sets, France in the early 1800s is beautifully re-created on the big screen. The battle at the barricades is marvellously staged. Hooper does not try to out-do past extravagantly filmed musicals like “Cabaret” or “Chicago”. You’d note that the tone is very serious since this is about the downtrodden and it’s not the type where the characters dance their cares away. As a matter of fact, there’s almost no dancing here.

If you’re not at all familiar with the book or the play, it’s best to read a little about it so you can have a better appreciation of the material. Since the film is sung all throughout, you also should pay extra attention to the lyrics to fully comprehend what’s going on.

It starts when Jean Valjean is paroled from jail in 1815 after 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread for his niece. Doggedly pursued by Inspector Javert, we next see him eight years later as the mayor of a town, still hounded by Javert. He rescues a dying prostitute, Fantine, and promises to take care of her daughter, Cosette. He escapes from Javert with Cosette and we next see them nine years later in Paris. Cosette falls in love with a young rebel, Marius, who’s also the object of affection of Eponine, the daughter of Cosette’s former foster parents, the Thenardiers. The climax is the battle at the barricades where Jean Valjean saves Marius from death by carrying him through the sewers of Paris.

The acting is generally good. Even Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”) is surprisingly effective as the obnoxious Monsieur Thenardier. The actors all use their own voice and the singing is all shot live, not pre-recorded (amazing!!!) Renditions of familiar songs like “Do You Hear the People Sing”, “Red and Black” and “One Day More”, are given with bursting full-throated energy.

Hugh Jackman is simply stunning as Valjean. This is Wolverine and Reel Steel??? We first see him as an ugly and scrawny prisoner in chains singing “Look Down” in the opening scene and he really transforms on screen as he gets older and older. We cried several times during the film and the first one was when he turns his back on his old self and proclaims “another story must begin”. We first saw him playing Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” in Sydney in his native Australia and his singing was already a standout even then. “Les Miz” is a story of redemption about a man who finds forgiveness from a priest who helps him but who he repays with a dastard deed. And Jackman is just superb. We just can’t forget his “Who Am I” and “Bring Him Home” numbers.

Anne Hathaway is also a standout, pouring her whole soul as Fantine. Her interpretation of “I Dreamed a Dream” is not the usual “birit” type but it’ll take your breath away as it’s at once defiant, furious and heartbreaking. They both deserve the best actor and best supporting actress awards they won at the Golden Globe. Here’s hoping they’ll duplicate it in the Oscars.

We don’t know why some writers bash Russell Crowe but for us, he gives a finely restrained portrayal of Javert. If he’s inflexible, it’s because that Javert’s most defining trait. Crowe also knows this is more of his kababayan’s vehicle and he graciously makes no attempt to steal it. He has already won the Oscar anyway.

Samantha Barks easily eclipses Amanda Seyfried as Cosette simply because the role of Eponine, the unrequited lover, is more attention-getting (just like her very small waistline.) Eddie Redmayne (whom we first saw in “My Week with Marilyn”) also delivers as Marius, especially in the “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” number. And we’d like to report happily that when we saw this film at SM North Edsa, the theatre was full and audiences applauded at film’s end, which means they appreciate it. Too bad they didn’t give the samee support for a similarly excellent local musical shown recently, “I Do Bidoo”.