It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good partner must be available to watch musicals.
And such was my case when my lady asked me to go on a date with her to the Roxy (The old movie theatre that Peter Jackson did up). She loves Les Mis and wanted to share it with me. So of course I agreed.
She also asked me to blog about the film objectively. While she loves the musical, she wanted to know my thoughts as someone that isn’t going into it as a massive fan. I was hesitant because I find musicals jarring, and don’t generally like the songs but I thought I would give it a go.
Now I understand that people that want to see this film will already know the story but however I am obliged to alert you.
So a musical synopsis. Oh by the way I think I have invented a drinking game. Get some booze and every time you read Jean Valjean take a drink. It’s madness!
It is France in the early part of the 19th century and Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman)has been granted parole at the end of a 19 year sentence after stealing a loaf of bread for his staving sister. Before he gets his parole he is confronted by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who hates criminals and does not believe in rehabilitation. Javert assures Jean Valjean that they will meet again.
Finally free of his chains Jean Valjean starts his life anew. But society rejects Jean Valjean, he can’t even sleep in a stable. So after months or even years of abuse and neglect when a kindly priest takes him in, Jean Valjean steals a fortune in silver from his benefactor. The local militia/ constabulary find Jean Valjean, beat him and drag him back to the preist. To everyone’s surprise the priest tells the constables that he gave Jean Valjean the silver as a gift and to set him free. Confronted by this act of saintly compassion and forgiveness Jean Valjean comes to terms that he has lost track of his own humanity and resolves to start afresh, a better man to save his own soul. He discards his old identity and starts anew. However by doing so Jean Valjean breaks his parole and becomes a fugitive.
Several years later we find Jean Valjean as the mayor of a town which prospers under his guidance. He is a man of means that owns and operates several local businesses. Life is good until the new police inspector arrives and it is Javert. Jean Valjean panics but Javert does not fully recognize Jean Valjean in his guise as mayor.
Meanwhile in a factory owned by Jean Valjean, a young woman called Fontaine (the lovely Anne Hathaway) is harassed, by the factory foreman(who can blames him!) , and disliked by the other workers. (I could not ascertain why they disliked her, it could be that they were fans of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman?) One of the workers finds out that Fontaine has a daughter who is being cared for at an inn and narks to the foreman that Fontaine could be a woman of ‘low character’. The foreman suggests that a unmarried woman with a child must be easy to Fontaine and gets a well-deserved slap to the mouth. But then the Foreman throws Fontiane out into the street.
Jean Valjean does not intercede because he is distracted by his confrontation with his past. While he and Javert are walking they come across a man who is trapped under his cart. Jean Valjean instantly leaps to his rescue and lifts the cart off the man enough for him to be rescued. But in revealing his superpowers, (sorry wrong film), Javert thinks he recognizes the mayor as Jean Valjean. Javert knows that Jean Valjean broke his parole and has been seeking him ever since!
Dun dun dunnnnn
Back to Fontaine. On the streets and with no opportunity for work she sells her possessions, her hair, her teeth, and finally her body in order to support her daughter Cosette. Fontiane falls afoul of Javert, but as Fontaine is about to be taken away Jean Valjean appears and hearing that he might responsible for her plight takes her to hospital in front of a suspicious Javert.
Javert writes to his superiors accusing Jean Valjean of being Jean Valjean! (I think he had a fake name, but seemed to be just known as mayor?) But is horrified when he learns that the Paris authorities have captured Jean Valjean. He immediately reveals his actions to Jean Valjean, apologizes and demands that as mayor Jean Valjean sacks him. Jean Valjean refuses to and lets Javert leave.
But Jean Valjean has a conflict of conscience. This case of mistaken identity frees him to live out his life free from suspicion and fear of capture. But can he let a stranger be punished for his crimes! Jean Valjean confesses to the court that he is Jean Valjean! But as a gentleman the courts ignore him and convict the other man as he is poor and Jean Valjean is rich.
Javert on the other hand believes Jean Valjeans confession, and confronts him in the hospital. Jean Valjean flees after promising to adopt Fontaines daughter Cosette. Javert is thwarted again.
“JEAN VALJEAN!” Javert screams into the night waving his fist in rage. (he didn’t but that would have been cool)
Jean Valjean finds Cosette in the care of Mr. and Mrs Thénardier, a couple of thieving nasty’s (played by Sacha baron Cohen and Helena Bonhama carter). Jean Valjean pays them off and takes Cosette away. Javert appears but too late! “JEAN VALJEAN!” Javert screams into the night waving his fist in rage.
Please turn the record over now.
So years later and Cosette (Amanda Seyfreid) is a beautiful young woman in Paris. While in the street she falls in love at first sight with Marius a handsome but dimwitted ginger student, who belongs to a group of second year university students who after reading half of Voltaire who are going to revolt against the corrupt state. Marius asks his friend Eponine (who is the daughter of the the Thénardiers) to find Cosette. She agrees even though she is in love with Marius.
Meanwhile across Paris Jean Valjean and Cosette are accosted by the Thénardiers again. Before blood is spilt (and I would put a fiver on Hugh over Sacha) Javert appears and arrests Thénardiers and their gang. Jean Valjean and Cosette take the opportunity to slip away.
Eponine leads Marius to Cosette and they express their love. And after Marius runs off to join his revolutionary brothers, Eponine remains to pine for Marius. Suddenly Thénardiers and his gang of hoodlums appear to burgle Jean Valjean. Out of loyalty to Marius Eponine raises the alarm, gets a slap for her trouble but saves the day. Jean Valjean fearing that it is Javert is determined to leave the city and flee to Britain, tearing Cosette away from her new found love.
Marius finding that Cosette has left joins the stupid students and their deluded revolution. Jean Valjean discovers through the art of a young rap scallion called Gavroche that Marius loves Cosette.
The revolutionaries take the opportunity to hijack the hearse of a popular general from his friends, family and troops for their political gain and hide behind a barricade. Javert and Jean Valjean, Eponine (dressed as a boy) and Gavroche all sneak in amongst the revolutionaries. The boy Gavroche recognises inspector Javert and the revolutionaries give Javert to Jean Valjean to kill. But Jean Valjean will not. He recognizes that Javert is just a policeman doing his job and lets him go. The revolutionaries discover that like most second year social science students that they are completely disconnected from reality and the people don’t want to join their revolution they just want to be left alone. The army arrive offer the young men an opportunity to surrender, but they would rather die as heroes than live as idiots. So they die as idiots. But Jean Valjean rescues marius Shawshank styles through a sewer, and there is a final confrontation between Jean Valjean and javert. Javert finds that he cannot kill the man that has spared him twice, so a professional to the end he jumps off a bridge.
Jean Valjean confesses the full story to Marius, gives him his blessing to marry Cosette then leaves not knowing that Javert is dead. Marius and Cosette marry, discover Jean Valjean is dying. Meet, reconcile and Jean Valjean dies.
And that is why I usually just write hijinx!
So what did I think?
Except for a part at the beginning the cinematography is excellent. The film is colorful and dramatic with poignant personal scenes and dramatic panoramas of the city of Paris. I enjoyed the imagery immensely.
The reason I did such a long and detailed synopsis is to discuss the story. It is a pretty standard romantic drama, Love at first sight, miscommunications, secret pasts, children being rescued from evil step parents to a life of prosperity etc. The original story was written by Victor Hugo, a writer and politician known for his views on the injustice between the rich and poor. Throughout the musical there is the theme of the injustices against the poor and the privilege of the wealthy elite. No example more blatant than when Jean Valjean confession is ignored by all but the dogmatic Javert. I found these elements and the overarching history more interesting than the main story. But then I love history.
I found the suicide of Javert interesting, and I felt that something was lacking form it. I am not sure if the fault was with Russell Crowe or the story. My understanding of the suicide is this, Javert was born in a prison the child of convicts, his hatred of criminals led him to be a famous inspector. But his success was driven by his hate which created a black and white perception of the world. The Law is good, people are good, until they break the law, and then they are criminals and criminals are bad. Even himself is not above his own morality when he confesses to Jean Valjean that he was unprofessional and made a false accusation. Eventually Javert comes to the conclusion that Jean Valjean is not a bad man, which creates a shade of grey into his world. He questions everything eh has ever known. This not only challenges his perception of the world, but also his very nature as a man. The sundering of his reality drives him to realize that there is no place for him in this world. To me Javert is in fact one of the more tragic figures. This is why Jean Valjean spares him, because he is not a bad man, he is just driven by an over developed sense of dedication to his role.
The acting was good, for those who are unaware of this Hugh Jackman is a very talented singer. I wasn’t sure about Russell Crowes voice, but he was perfect for the part of Javert. Sacha baron Cohen and Helena Bonhama Carter were fantastic as comic relief, as was the Daniel Huttlestone who played Gavroche. The girl they had to play the part of the young Cosette is identical to that famous picture of a child that symbolizes Les Mis.
I had a love hate relationship with the students. The did such a great job of portraying a bunch of idealistic young men, desperate to save the world, whether it wanted to be saved or not. While they may have understood the nuances of why the government was corrupt, they were completely detached from the populace they believed they represented. I don’t know about you but I met more than one of these types at Uni. I was the honor guard for my dead general and a bunch of spotty swats hijacked his carriage I would have stabbed them too!
But was it good? Well the entire theatre was in tears apart from me, and apparently it was very true to the musical. My lady and my friend H both loved it and talked about for ages afterward very enthusiastically about the music, songs, and cast. I think as a production I am going to give it a 7. Not as a reflection of how I enjoyed it, but as a reflection of what it was. I think that this film is a good production which is loyal to the musical and its fans. But if you do not like musicals then this is not for you in any way shape or form.