Before I write a word of what I think of this film you need to know that I have not seen the Broadway sensation upon which it is an adaptation, but I am very familiar with Victor Hugo’s work and the various dramatic interpretations. My first experience with the material was in CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED. I read that adaptation with art by Rolland Livingstone – and for many years, that was LES MISERABLES. The cover had no accent upon the second E.
Then there’s Tom Hooper. If you remember I was the solitary jackass that didn’t go gaga for his film, KING’S SPEECH. I thought it was a fine film, just not near the best film of the year. So throughtout the production of this – I was nowhere near as enthused about it as Moises here.
Then I got sent my screener of the film. I get sent a ton of screeners, because I vote in the Austin Film Critic Association awards – and as part of that, you get sent screeners for films. I really wish I’d seen the film in theaters, but at the same time, what I’ve had with this film is something that I can describe as an intimate discovery.
I love Les Misérables.
The first time I watched it I didn’t know a single song. I had no prejudice for the material. I fell for the film. It is directed by Tom Hooper in a fashion that evokes what Alan Parker did with EVITA, except more intimate. Hooper is big on putting the camera right there close to the performance. He loves to capture the performers living every lyric and thinking about all of it.
When you see Anne Hathaway’s Fantine sing, you’ll totally understand what I’m thinking… but the same is true of Jackman’s Jean Valjean… a performance so robust that I now feel that Hugh Jackman should never be allowed to say a single line, he should sing it. I’d love an angry Wolverine musical. But then I generally love a great musical. I love the form. Hell, even as I write this I’m watching GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937, which isn’t necessarily near the top of Busby’s output, but it is a wonderful diversion. Tap dancing on a giant rocking chair does it for me. Sorry. But Les Misérables is less rock n roll in its delivery than EVITA, instead Les Misérables feels like a legend given song. It’s the legend of Jean Valjean, and it is truly beautiful.
The songs are sweeping. Samantha Barks’s Eponine, breaks your heart. She’s amazing. Amanda Seyfried, who knew she could hit these notes. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the THenardiers crack me up and are a light diversion.
That said though, the film belongs to Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. They suffer and sing. Their desperation and heartache comes out through the songs.
Now, because I know I’m an idiot regarding the musical Les Misérables, I have watched it with a couple of hardcore fans. The first was fully prepared to sing every song. She was a huge fan, but it was so much fun to watch Hathaway silence her. Anne makes Fantine’s songs such an intimate and soulful part of her existence in this film, that I watched her silence someone that loves to sing this stuff. Then later, I watched it with a couple that seem to know every performer – and when Colm Wilkinson’s Bishop sings a different lyric, they were angry. SO realize, they do change some things, but it’s lost on me, as this film is how I came to love Les Misérables.
I’ve seen the film about 5 times thus far. I do know the songs as they exist in the film and they’re powerful stuff. The epic tale of Jean Valjean is amazing, be it sung or be it read.
For me, this is how I discovered and fell in love with the musical and I know, I know… painfully late to the game, but better late than never. Friends have already reached out and have made sure I have all the music from the stage… But right now, I tell you – when I shut my eyes and sing these songs, it is their faces that I see.
And now… Let’s talk about Russell Crowe’s Javert. Upon first watching, I found him a bit stilted. I mean, when you first watch this film – it’s hard for anyone to really grab your attention when you have Hugh Jackman just kicking ass as Jean Valjean. This is what he made instead of Aronofsky’s THE WOLVERINE, but he was in shape for that, so Valjean, seems as strong as they say. And for my money, Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean is his best Wolverine yet – sewers and all. Even if he looks a bit more Black King than Wolvie! Anyway, let’s get back on to discussing Javert. In my third viewing of Les Misérables, I suddenly really picked up on the genius that Crowe is putting into this. He plays Javert a bit like Lt. Ed Exley than his Bud White. He’s a true shooter. He only knows, YOU HAVE BROKE THE LAW. He’s a boy scout. Javert is the stick in the mud. The strong arm of the law that isn’t there to forgive or bend for you. Javert is THE MAN. And as we all know, we hate THE MAN. THE MAN fucking sucks. THE MAN will infiltrate and betray a revolution. And really, we’re all about the fucking revolution. Luke Skywalker fights for the revolution. However, Javert knows he’s right, and there’s nothing more dangerous than THE MAN that knows he’s right. It gives him no wiggle room. JAVERT is not us. He’s not the viewer that has seen the awesome that is Jean Valjean. He only sees Prisoner Number 24601. A man he chases and puts back in chains.
SO, Crowe isn’t playing a character that we’re supposed to like, but over the course of the film, his arc is just fascinating to me. I love how Crowe sings his songs with a self-righteous conviction – he has an air above the filth in the streets. He is JAVERT. He refers and thinks of himself in the Third person. His own name has such meaning to him. But he’s a man that has very strict convictions and what he sees over his story, which is to hunt Jean Valjean. It profoundly affects him.
Because the story of Jean Valjean, a man who wasn’t trying to revolt. He was in his soul a good man, but it is the story of Jean Valjean that gives meaning to this revolution. If a man that is trying to live such a just life is punished by a society that cares not about context. That doesn’t seek to understand. That is a government to rebel against – and for me, the songs, the performances, the production design and the spirit of the film sell it.
As much as I went a bit blah on THE KING’S SPEECH, I’m high as a kite for this flick. From those sweeping opening shots to that crazy last shot. Probably the most fun conversation I had about the ending of the film with some Broadway lovers is still my favorite conversation about Les Misérables. That said, I’ll save it for the Blu Ray write up next year, as to not be a complete spoiler bastard here. I’ll just say it has to do with Javert’s absence from the end number. Leave it at that. We speculated wildly about why. Have fun with it.
I do not guarantee you’ll have the same experience with the film if you’re intimately familiar with the musical, though I do know 3 that loved and 2 that were wishy washy. As a complete Les Misérables Virgin, I thought this was awesome stuff. Looks like the film is headed to a huge success. It totally deserves anything it gets.