Les Miserables is based on the long running musical from Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel. Other theatrical musicals have not made a smooth transition to the big screen and it may have been thought the same of Les Mis - since many of the actors weren’t known for their singing, but the resulting film is certainly not a misery.
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has spent the last 19 years in prison for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread for his starving nephew. Officer Javert (Russell Crowe) makes no judgments as to guilt or innocence of his prisons, he just knows that they’re all bad and the freed Valjean will probably quickly reoffend and be back in his prison. Valjean does try to go down the path of the straight and narrow, but his is marked as an offender and cannot get work.
He found an offered shelter by a kindly priest (Colm Wilkinson) who he repays by stealing the church’s silver. When captured he says that the priest gave him the silver and is shocked when the priest substantiates the lie. This kindness has Valjean promising to go into the world and only do good. Years pass and Valjean has reinvented himself as a successful businessman and Mayor. There is a problem on the floor of his factory, but he is distracted by the arrival of his new police chief – Javert.
Luckily Javert doesn’t recognize his former prisoner, but the distraction has worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) thrown out onto the street and she has to debase herself to get money for her child. By the time Valjean discovers how he unwittingly destroyed Fantine it is too late for her but he swears to take care of her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen) as if she was his own. Javert has recognized Valjean by this time and he has to go on the run, but Javert swears that he will pursue him to the ends of the earth.
Years again pass, and Cosette (Amanda Seyfreid) has grown up and both are hiding in the metropolis of Paris but a stirring student revolution and the looming threat of Javert threaten to destroy not just Valjean but many.
Les Mis (so I don’t have to type that whole thing out again and again) is traced back to the original novel by Victor Hugo in 1862. That novel has been adapted several times for both the big and small screens. Most may be more familiar with the long running musical version that is the toast of Broadway and the West End.
There may have been some doubts about this version showing up on big screens as another longed after adaptation of a stage musical turned out badly, I’m looking at you Phantom of the Opera. Any fears should be allayed as this film is a gargantuan production that only accentuates what could not be done on stage. The cast is not exactly known for their singing abilities, although Jackman got his start there, but who knew Russell Crowe could sing?
Although I’m not the best musical critic I thought that Crowe acquits himself nicely. Now if you are not a fan of musicals then you’ll probably not enjoy Les Mis since there are only about three spoken lines of dialogue, the rest being delivered in sweeping arias and songs. It is easy to get caught up in the expansive storyline as well as it is to get caught up in the music.
Les Miserables is presented in a 1080p transfer (1.85:1). Special features include a commentary by director Tom Hooper, the hour long multi-part “A Revolutionary Approach” (The stars of Les Mis, West End Connection, Les Mis on Location, Creating the Perfect Paris, Battle of the Barricades, and Les Mis Singing Live) that is exclusive to the Blu-ray, the 11 minute “The original Masterwork” about Hugo’s original novel, and the disc is BD-Live enhanced. You also get a DVD, digital copy, and Ultraviolet code.
Les Mis soars in this film adaptation thanks to a game cast and some grand production values. It seems to transcend the stage and become a magnificent journey through the life of Jean Valjean with the vicious Javert in pursuit.
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