Les Misérables (2012)

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Entertainment: +4

Content: +2

Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham-Carter, Amanda Seyfried, Isabella Allen. Drama/musical. Directed by Tom Hooper.

FILM SYNOPSIS:Tom Hooper (John Adams, The King's Speech) directs this screen adaptation of the successful stage musical based on Victor Hugo's classic novel. Set in 19th-century France, the central story revolves around the morality tale of an escaped prisoner named Jean Valjean, who undergoes a life-altering experience while the obsessive Inspector Javert hunts him down.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Victor Hugo’s 1200-page novel addresses some of the most inspiring messages ever placed on paper: man can find redemption and he can replace anger and fear with compassion and faith. The most powerful component of the book/the plays/and past movie versions has always been Jean Valjean’s conversion once he experienced God’s mercy. Great news – this same spiritual truth remains intact in this new, rather extraordinary rendition.

The bedeviled Javert lives by the letter of the law in hope of salvation, whereas Jean Valjean has been transformed by mercy shown him and lives the rest of his life governed by this newfound compassion. This change takes root once a man of God shows a kindness Valjean has never known. He is then transfigured by God’s love (which even changes his outer countenance, as evidenced in the film when Javert doesn’t recognize the very man he is hunting). Les Misérables is a parable that clearly conveys the difference between the Bible's Old Testament, where man is dependent upon the laws of God in order to find salvation, and the New Testament’s revelation of God’s sacrifice that paid our sin debt. This message is successfully and most passionately brought to this screen production, something Mr. Hugo could never have known would happen 150 years after his book was first published.

The weakest element of the production is the student revolution backdrop. While timely, as evidenced by the uprising seen by the have-nots toward the haves, the film’s subplot fails to tell us just exactly what the disenfranchised expect. The uprisers kill soldiers and soldiers kill them, but nothing changes the establishment. Perhaps that’s the point. Fairness and justice won’t come by war or even law. It comes from a change of heart. As the film’s director wisely noted, “Real change starts with love for those we see around us.”

But while I was dissatisfied with this aspect of the film, still there were moments within this secondary story that supported and gave substance to the film’s main themes, as in the songs Red and Black, which testified to the frustration of the world’s 99%, and Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, which conveyed the price of a cause.

It’s impossible to single out one talent, as no one associated with the film missed a step or musical cue (all the numbers were recorded during the filming, no lip-syncing). Both cast and crew took on the challenge of this screen adaptation respectfully, fully aware of the significance of the book’s theme. The vigilant director, Tom Hooper, used his camera and cast to spellbind us; his two male leads were perfectly cast. Javert (Crowe) and Valjean (Jackman) are a symbolic yin and yang that represent what mankind is and what it can become.

Russell Crowe’s Javert is not a villain. He’s an honorable man. But he has no comprehension of a love that forgives all. He conducts his life by a code of honor, unable to accept weakness in others or himself. Javert just doesn’t get grace or forgiveness. The Oscar-winning actor gives dimension to a role that could have been stilted and pantomime villainous. Hugh Jackman as Valjean gives a pitch-perfect portrayal of a man who has felt God’s love. His character may not understand God’s charity, but his soul is reborn by it.

Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-worthy performance as Fantine, a degraded woman struggling to support her child, may be the best-written, best acted female role ever! It is difficult to sit through her ordeals, as the little she has (her hair, her teeth, her virtue) are systematically taken away from her in order that she might get money to keep her child alive. Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream was a shared audience moment I’ll never forget. As the song ended, many in the audience were in tears while everyone burst into applause. (There were several instances when the audience applauded as if they were seeing a live play. They needed to express their emotion and appreciation. The empathy in the movie theater was palpable.)

Though there is some PG-13 content, it is not there to be exploitive, but rather used to give credence to the story and to viscerally work on our emotions. Bring hankies as you will be wounded by the visual injustices. But you will also be uplifted by the film’s spiritual resonance. Les Misérables is the most gut-wrenching, yet profound film of the year!

Trivia: Colm Wilkinson appears as Bishop Myriel, the man who offers Valjean the candlesticks. The Dublin-born actor played Jean Valjean in the London production of Les Misérables, which opened in October 1985, and transferred to Broadway in March 1987. Originally, the American Actors' Equity Association refused to allow Wilkinson to play the part of Valjean in New York, due to their policy of hiring only American actors. At this, producer Cameron Mackintosh refused to open the show unless Wilkinson played Valjean. Actor's Equity subsequently relented. Wilkinson won the Helen Hayes Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Theatre World Award for his performance. He was nominated for the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Reportedly, he was very supportive of Hugh Jackman.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: A few bawdy remarks, especially in the musical number Master of the House.

Obscene Language: Four or five obscenities.

Profanity: Two misuses of Christ’s name.

Violence: We see a dead body left hanging in the square; a woman is badly mistreated; in order to get money to aid her child, she allows her hair to be cut off and teeth pulled; unable to get any employment, she turns to prostitution; we see battle scenes, men and children killed in the mêlée; a man commits suicide by falling to his death; though all of this is disturbing, it is not gratuitous, but rather serves to move us emotionally. After a bloody battle we see streams of blood in a street; again, it is not gratuitous, but neither is the content of this film suitable for little ones; if you can’t get a babysitter, don’t go.

Sex: Two sex scenes, but neither is graphic and it shows the evil of forced prostitution.

Nudity: I caught none.

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: None

Drugs: Some drinking.

Other: None

Running Time: 155 minutes
Intended Audience: Mature teens and Up

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