Les Misérables: a review (no spoilers)

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Highly anticipated this past Christmas season was the transformation of one of the greatest novels of the 19th century, Victor Hugo’s "Les Misérables." Though the French classic had been adapted into a movie in the past (think 1998’s version starring Mr. Liam Neeson), there was no shortage of excitement for this season’s. With an impressive lineup consisting of Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and more, who could have resisted the hype? Granted, this author might be a tad under-enthused, having never seen the musical, the 1998 movie, or read the book, but bear with me. The story jumps right into the tale of Jean Valjean, a rugged-looking Jackman, who experienced firsthand the harsh justice system of 19th century France. Imprisoned for stealing bread to save his starving sister, Valjean spent 19 years in jail—five for stealing and 14 for numerous attempts to escape. The day has finally come for his release—from jail and from the watchful eye of Javert. The rest of the story intermingles Valjean’s new life with themes of reformation, justice, mercy, forgiveness, misfortune and love. "Les Mis" explores how labels can define us if we allow it, and how we can speak into people with how we label them. Javert labels Valjean as a prisoner, a convict, following him throughout the story, not believing Valjean when he claims to have changed. Similarily, Valjean’s passport brands him as a convict, causing people to shun him, though he only earned that by trying to save the lives of his sister’s family. Because he is treated as a criminal, Valjean resorts to stealing, the law having reduced him to becoming that which he was labeled. However, he is shown kindness by Bishop Myriel, who opposes Valjean’s criminal label, shows him outstanding mercy, and marks him for God. This is a turning point for Valjean, who then goes on to show mercy to others throughout the movie. There are many beautiful moments in the movie that we as Christians can take note from. Observing mercy over justice, love over hate, and responsibility over attainment, "Les Mis" has a positive message, despite its close look at the harshness of life. Javert’s struggle between his overzealous lawfulness and Valjean’s mercy can be compared to the Christian struggle between religiosity and Jesus’ all-encompassing love. Artistically, the movie was stunning. It matched both the feel of the time and the story beautifully, bringing the classic to life on the big screen. Naturally, Jackman shone as Valjean, comfortably playing his common role of the troubled hero. Many raved about Hathaway’s Fantine, however, I am not a personal fan of the actress. It was, most definitely, her best work so far, but I feel that I only ever see Hathaway as herself playing the role of another, rather than truly becoming the character. I was impressed by her singing—“I Dreamed A Dream” is truly no easy piece to perform—but feel that her rave reviews are a tad overhyped. Similarly, I am not a huge fan of Amanda Seyfried either, who played the significant role of Cosette. Granted, she does have a lovely voice and can act much better than Kristen Stuart (but let’s face it, a rock could), but either the role was written flat, or her acting was lacking. Cosette, redeeming innocence incarnate, was simply this doll-child of a figure. I did not find her character compelling. There were many notable actors, such as impressive ten-year-old Isabelle Allen who played the iconic role of young Cosette, as well as Samantha Barks who played a stunning Éponine that broke my heart, and new heartthrobs Eddie Redmayne as Maius, and Aaron Tveit as Enjolras. Despite the bittersweet beauty of the story, it is heartbreaking and often dark. There is a whole scene dedicated to introducing the Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) that is entirely crass and gritty, and many of the characters endure a lot of hardship. But if you can’t hack that, maybe you shouldn’t go to a movie called “The Miserable Ones?” All in all, it was well done. It had to have been, or all the theatre majors of the world would have caused a rebellion and hung director Tom Hooper upside-down from his ankles until he apologized enough to appease their fury. Personally, I appreciated it as a work of art, but honestly wouldn’t jump to watch it again, if only because I like to be happy and I wasn't a huge fan of the work to begin with. If you can hack the sadness, go see it, absolutely. But bring tissues and brace yourself for two and a half hours of straight singing, and please, someone explain the ending. The artistic metaphor was lost on me.
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