Les Misérables (2012)

Les Misérables
(2012) PG-13. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe and Anne Hathaway

For those unfamiliar with Victor Hugo’s novel (1862) or the various film and stage adaptations, Les Misérables is the story of Jean Valjean, a paroled criminal in 19th century France. After being shown mercy, kindness, forgiveness and generosity by a member of the clergy, Valjean commits his life and future actions to God. In doing so however, he also breaks his parole and is thereafter wanted and pursued by his former guard, Javert. Eventually, Valjean’s dedication to leading a good and holy life imitating the virtues he was shown result in him taking in an orphan, Cosette, as his ward. The story progresses with Valjean and Cosette constantly on the run from Javert, culminating against the backdrop of the June Rebellion in Paris, 1832.

Much more could be said about the spiritual merits of this story. This has undoubtedly already been done by more learned students of literature and theology, so a simple movie review will suffice here. It is a musical directed by Tom Hooper, also known for The King’s Speech (2010). One very impressive element of this film is that Hooper directed the first cinematic musical to utilize the live singing performances into the actual movie. Usually, the final track is dubbed over after all takes are completed.

While the accomplishment is unique and admirable in its own right, it also helped to relay the emotional content of each performance, instead of the actors being distracted while focusing on lip syncing. The film had a definitive sense of grandeur to it which came from the performances as well as the setting and backdrop.

As this is a Catholic review, it is necessary to point out a few instances of sexual material. There is one part at an inn where the entire scene is of a humorous and lighthearted nature. During this scene, a quick image of prostitution is shown which, again, is meant to draw a laugh from the crowd. Given the story and its setting, however, the other scenes showing prostitution are not in any way meant to be taken lightly. The entire brothel area is dark and seedy, with no possible way of being interpreted as a positive scenario. The scene in which Anne Hathaway’s character, Fantine, turns to prostitution for survival and her subsequent fall from grace are in no way glorified. It is somewhat graphic, though without nudity.

These few instances do not thoroughly negate or detract from the general message though. The story is essentially Catholic. The driving force compelling Valjean is virtue. Once he has experienced God’s love through his fellow man, nothing can deter him from his desire to imitate God in his daily life. He becomes selfless and righteous. He is always willing to sacrifice all for others in service to God. His character is almost entirely sinless after his conversion. This is the type of protagonist our society needs to emulate. Too many movies give us heroes so lacking in virtue that it can be difficult to want to see such chronically blaspheming, womanizing characters survive the length of the film. Happily, that is not the case in Les Miserables. Even the antagonist, Javert, who is essentially the “bad guy” is much more virtuous than most modern heroes.

I was very impressed with the singing performances of all the actors and actresses. The aforementioned live recording proves their talent and commitment to the film. However, I have also been reading stories of Hugh Jackman losing and gaining weight to show his character’s progressive stages and development. Another interesting story is that of Anne Hathaway actually having her hair chopped off for the film. While these types of sacrifices are nothing new in Hollywood, the combination of them goes to show the level of commitment put into the project. Such commitment is arguably essential to the success and quality of anything artistic; in which case Les Miserables is definitely not lacking.

Essentially, I found this movie to be very well done, impressive and enjoyable. I usually do not care for musicals, though I have not seen enough to be completely fair to them all, but the quality of the songs and the original story created an end result which was similar to that of a classic opera. There were no dance routines to distract form the overall experience as this is not that type of musical. If you are a man who is afraid to see this movie with your wife or girlfriend just because it is a musical; don’t be. The virtues of the story combined with the climatic score of the modern Broadway make this adaptation something you should not regret seeing. If your significant other has been bugging you to take her; she will definitely appreciate it.

I am only giving this film 2.5 Tiaras instead of 3 because of the sexual content. While it was a “necessary evil” to show Fantine’s downfall, the manner in which it was delivered might be offensive to some or become a point of contention for parents who would otherwise have no qualms showing this movie to their children.

Review by Michael Cove