Les Miserables was one of my most anticipated films of 2012. I have seen the stage musical numerous times and find deeper meaning and greater appreciation for the themes each time. The 1998 film version with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush was a tremendous disappointment; therefore, while my expectations were high for the new film, I was cautiously optimistic that they would be able to translate this tale on screen in a deserving fashion. Tom Hooper managed to bring it to the screen it a way that not only pays homage to what I have always loved about the musical but his interpretation brought a level of depth to the characters along with a heightened level of storytelling beyond what I could have imagined.
In 1815, French prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is being released after serving a 19-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread and a failed escape attempt. While Valjean believes he is now free, prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) informs him that will never be the case. He has been put on lifetime parole and forever labeled as a criminal. Valjean quickly learns this is the truth when he is unable to find a job or even a place to sleep. The Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson) offers him food and shelter but Valjean repays him by stealing the church’s silver. Rather than sending Valjean back to prison, the Bishop tells the police it was gift hoping to bring Valjean back to the right path in order to save his soul.
Eight years later, the Bishop’s actions have brought positive repercussions to the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer where Valjean is now the mayor and a factory owner employing many people. One of his employees, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), is discovered to be sending money to her illegitimate daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen). When she rejects the advances of the foreman after her secret is revealed she is fired. This forces Fantine to do unspeakable things she would have never imagined in an effort to continue to send her child money. Due to a course of circumstances, Valjean ends up caring for Cosette while on the run from Javert who never stopped looking for him.
Fast-forward nine years and the death of one of the few politicians sympathetic to the poor causes a group of students to look to revolution. One of the students, Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne), glimpses Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) in the town square and they instantly fall in love. Marius’ friend Eponine (Samantha Barks) knows Cosette from childhood and she is able to bring them together. As the revolution begins, the storylines converge resulting in a dramatic conclusion.
The video comes with a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer, displayed at 1.85:1, which does a marvelous job capturing the both the dark and the light of Danny Cohen’s cinematography. The image offers great clarity, revealing fine textures. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 immerses the viewer within the music and the scene. Vocals are clear and located throughout the channels, which adds dimension to the audio.
There are several bonus features, which as a huge fan, gave me something new to enjoy and offers a way to dive even deeper into the film. “The Stars of Les Miserables” focuses on the casting, why the actors wanted to be involved, and how they prepared. “The West End Connection” is immensely interesting, highlighting the history that was brought into the film, such as the original stage production producer Cameron Mackintosh and the original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson. Watching this intensives the scenes between Wilkinson and Jackman in the film.
“Les Miserables on Location” gives a behind-the-scenes look at the sets, locations and, filming logistics. “Les Miserables Singing Live” includes interviews on how the actors were required to sing live rather than lip-syncing for the first time in film-making history. “Creating the Perfect Paris” details the construction of the Paris set while “Battle at the Barricade” focuses on how the barricade was created. “The Original Masterwork: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables” is a featurette on how the filmmakers used the novel to enhance the film while dissecting some of the history and themes. Lastly, there is a commentary with director Tom Hooper.
From the spectacular opening sequence, I was hooked. The film has a solid foundation in an amazing story and some of the best theatrical songs ever written. They key to the success in my mind was casting. The stunning and powerful performances of Jackman and Hathaway are breathtaking. Jackman carries the heaviest load and delivers. While always having been a fan, this is beyond anything he has ever done. He is perfectly cast as the prisoner with a heart of gold. Crowe is the weakest link but I don’t think he is as bad as other reviews have made him out to be. I give him credit for being brave enough to take on this role and it is passable.
The second half of the film with the students and revolution drags a bit and isn’t as engaging but that is in part because I long for more screen time of Jackman and Hathaway. Seyfried and Redmayne are good but Barks is wonderful and left me wanting more as well. Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are a delight performing a song that is always highly anticipated during the stage production.
While Les Miserables is a rather dark depressing film, there are overriding themes of sacrifice, redemption, love, and survival of the human spirit that alllow the film to rise to great heights.