Movie Review:  "Les Misérables" Movie Review:  "Les Misérables"
Movie Review:  "Les Misérables"

Movie Review: "Les Misérables"

Movie Review:  "Les Misérables"

by Steve Eastman, Faith Issues

Les Misérables is a story of grace in a world where grace rarely makes an appearance.  The movie begins in 1815. There is still a lot of hatred and resentment left over from the French Revolution, which began 26 years earlier.  

Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, is just completing a 19-year prison sentence he was given after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his nephew.  Valjean was also placed on permanent parole, but failed to keep his monthly appointment with his probation officer.  As a result, police inspector Javert, played by Russell Crowe, is hot on the trail of prisoner 24601 for the rest of his life.

Valjean first encounters grace at a church, which offers him shelter.  When the ex-prisoner steals a silver chalice, Javert investigates.   The bishop decides to protect Valjean, saying the cup was a gift, not stolen.  He also gives him two silver candlesticks, as resources to fund a new start in life. This marks Valjean’s first epiphany.

Eight years later Valjean has a new identity.  He’s owner of a small factory that employs 200 people.  That’s where Anne Hathaway’s character, comes in.  Fantine works there.  She’s an abandoned wife with a young daughter to support.  The already petite Hathaway lost 25 pounds for the role and almost looks like a holocaust survivor.  When Fantine is unfairly fired by a manager, she ends up selling her hair, teeth and even her body.  Fantine is headed for an early death.
It’s at this point that Valjean, touched by grace, decides to raise Fantine’s daughter as his own.  Director Tom Hooper calls it Valjean’s second epiphany.  “Here’s this guy in his late middle age who’s never been loved or loved, who quite out of the blue experiences parental love for a child.   And it absolutely overwhelms him and it transforms his life.”  This life-affirming act dissipates his hate little by little and encourages Valjean’s relationship with God.

The young girl grows up and falls in love.  Valjean says, “This is the day I most have feared.”  Cosette means everything to him.  But grace does its work and Valjean ends up risking his life to rescue his daughter’s sweetheart from a dangerous situation.

Now let’s get back to Javert.  He’s quite a character.  Javert does not understand grace. At one point, he even asks God to help him catch Valjean, who later saves his life.  That event shakes up Javert’s self-assurance.  He cries out, “And must I now begin to doubt, who hasn’t doubted all these years?”  Let’s just say it’s more than the inspector can handle.    

Cameron McKintosh, one of the producers of Les Misérables, has worked on stage versions of Victor Hugo's 160 year-old novel for the past 30 years or so.  He says the purpose this time was “not to put our stage play onto the movies, but to make a movie out of our stage play.  And that was a thrilling experience for us.”

Only a few lines in Les Misérables are actually spoken.  Most are sung in a conversational way.  Director Tom Hooper admits to a grueling audition process of at least three hours per actor, big name or not.  “Because I was determined to do it live.  I needed them to prove to me they could handle that.  And also, I wasn’t just looking for great singing and great acting, but I was looking for people who could act through the medium of song.”

One scene, with a singing Anne Hathaway, focuses a single camera on the actress for close to three minutes.  That’s unheard of these days when the average TV picture changes every two seconds. It was an effective way for the character to share her thoughts.  

My favorite line was at the end of the movie.  “To love another person is to see the face of God.”  Nobody expected this for Valjean at the beginning, but that little seed of grace planted by the bishop bloomed into a harvest.

© 2012 Faith issues
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