The advertisements for the film of the musical Les Miserables should come with a warning: Warning: May induce tears and crying. It’s a three handkerchief movie, and I say that as one who rarely cries at films.
Ironically, the film starts with a scene of lots of CGI men pulling a ship into a dock. At this point, I wondered if I had spent my money well, because it looked so fake. And the men were singing. Really? Standing in icy water up to your waist and you are singing while you pull on a rope with 100 other men?
The good news is that the film quickly gets be better as it shifts gear and simply goes on to entertain you with a good story.
The plot is wellÂ known: Jean Val Jean, an exconvict, turns his life around after meeting a charitable priest, and becomes a mayor and a factory owner. One of his employees, Fantine, has a child out of wedlock, is fired and turns to the streets to support herself. ValJean rescues her when she is dying, and promises to care for her child. But Javert, the local policeman, recognizes ValJean and tries to arrest him. Fleeing with the child, they find refuge in a Paris convent, and later living quietly in Paris (how he does this is explained in the book, but the movie glosses over it). Colette. Fantine’s daughter, falls in love with a revolutionary student, a rebellion starts in the streets, ValJean rescues Javert from the revolutionaries and later rescues the student loved by his “daughter”. Javert, unable to arrest a man who saved his life, commits suicide, and Cosetteand her boyfriend marry, while Val Jean disappears. And in the last scene, when they reunite and he dies in their arms, there isn’t a dry eye in the theater.
I was pleasantly surprised that the film worked.
Hugh Jackman, best known for his portrayal of Wolverine in the X men series, is excellent as Jean Val Jean, morphing from an angry and terribly thin man into the wiser and more mature character as the movie commences.
The second surprise is Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Those who saw her in the Princess Diaries or in the Devil Wears Prada know she can do light characters; in this film, she makes the pathos of the dying Fantine believable: and she sings too!
The other characters are adequate to the task: and the moppets are the ones who steal your heart (both Cosette as a child and the street kid in the scenes of the revolution).
The story has been done before, but never this well. Usually when a stage show is filmed and seen as a movie such singing is distracting: Movies usually are realistic, and come on now, do you really think people stop and break out into song on cue? But here, not only do the actors sing, but most of the dialogue is sung (often in verse) but one gets so engrossed in the plot that this is not distracting.
So should you see it?Â Yes. Should you take the children? Not very young children, but probably okay for teenagers and mature pre teens. The scenes of poverty are pretty gritty, and the scenes of Fantine as a prostitute are dark enough not to be explicit.
I give the film five stars.