Movies with Courtney: "Les Miserables"

2012 was a big year for movies, bringing us sweeping, two and a half hour epics like "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Hobbit." Appropriately, the year of big films went out with a bang with the newest film adaptation of the classic musical "Les Miserables."

There's no easy way to summarize the movie that had me in tears from start to finish because of the sheer magnitude of the story. The film starts with our hero, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) facing parole after a nineteen year prison sentence for the heinous crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. An encounter with ruthless prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) lets Valjean know that he will never truly be free as long as the stain of his crime follows him. Valjean breaks his parole and takes on a false identity. Valjean eventually becomes a business owner and the mayor of a small town, but Valjean isn't the only one who has risen through society. Javert has become an inspector, who, true to his promise, has never forgotten Valjean. An encounter with Javert threatens to destroy all that Valjean has worked for and he must once again start a new life after fulfilling a promise to his former employee Fantine (Anne Hathaway), to care for her daughter Cosette. The two live a life of secrecy because of Valjean's constant fear of being discovered, even in the midst of a revolution of the lower classes and young love.

Sound like a lot for one movie? It is. But have no fear; the story is easy to follow with the help of the songs and brief explanations that divide up the major portions of the movie.

The cast of this movie was absolutely flawless. The film versions of Valjean and Javert could not have been fulfilled better than they were by Jackman and Crowe, despite some complaints about Crowe's nasally voice. Perhaps the greatest member though was Anne Hathaway as Fantine. The ability to pack such an emotional punch in such a short amount of screen time shows there's no limit to what this leading lady can do. Other stand-outs with relatively short screen time were Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, who took the chops she showed in "Mama Mia" to the next level, and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche, who practically made the second half of the movie with his precocious performance and cockney accent.

Director Tom Hooper's adaptation of "Les Mis" brings together the best of both worlds—live productions and film adaptations of the musical. As a musical theatre fan, I'm more than willing to suspend my disbelief to fully engage with onstage action. However, the realism of the sets and costumes in the movie does more of the work for the audience, making the world of musical theatre more accessible to a general audience.

Despite the realism that the movie provides, some elements may be turn-offs for audiences that are not used to musicals. For one, the dialogue is sung rather than spoken. So much singing can be a little overwhelming in addition to the actual songs. The dialogue singing is also not usually to the tune of the main parts, making it difficult for the untrained ear to figure out how it fits in with the rest of the music. Another potential turnoff for non-theatre fans is the length of the movie, especially those unfamiliar with the story of "Les Mis." It's easier for audiences to justify seeing a two-plus hour "The Dark Knight Rises" or "The Hobbit" because they are preceded by action-packed movies, but why sit through hours of some miserable people singing in France? Just trust me when I say there's nothing boring about running from the law, revolution, or falling in love, especially when it's accompanied by some of the most emotionally charged songs you'll ever hear.

For musical lovers like me, "Les Miserables" is absolutely perfect, and totally worth a second (or third) trip to the theater (once my tear ducts have time to recover.) If you're not a theatre fan, "Les Miserables" might be the chance to broaden your cinematic horizons. Just be sure to bring a box of tissues, you're probably going to need them.


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