I'm writing this to take a break from job-searching, or PhD-searching, whatever it is. Should have posted it two weeks ago. Well, better late than never.
First of all, I prefer the pronouciation "le miz", it's short, neat and sounds beautiful compared to the "le meeser-a-bles". Anyway, I watched the movie last week and liked it. For musical movies, you really need to love musicals to appreciate them. I know when some people (e.g. my father) watch musicals, they only think about how silly it is to see people singing all the conversations instead of talking, even at moments of life and death. I agree that some musical movies overplay the drama and stuff in scenes where time freeze so the vocalists could express their momentary thoughts vocally (a.k.a. High School Musical). These instances are stupid indeed. Musical overall however, is an art form, and as art, it has the freedom to detach itself from reality. It's an acquired flavor, you need to appreciate it before you can enjoy it. Some people do, some never do.
Spoiler warning here!
The movie has quite a hype of itself, most notably Anne Hathaway's portrayal of the character Fantine. She cut off her long hair during filming, as demanded by the story of her character. Her painfully emotional version of the song "I dreamed a dream" is widely heard since it's featured in the movie trailer. Since I sometimes measure success by details, with my standard, Anne has proven to be an admirable actress/singer combined. Take this example. When she was singing a verse about how Fantine still wishes her past lover (the father of her illegitimate daughter Cossette) to come back and so they could "live the years together", in the extremely short-lived instant through the sad song, her face was suddenly full of spirit and optimism that her eyes literally glimmered. In the next moment, she lamented over how some dreams could never be fulfilled. By then her hope was completely replaced by despair, as she closed her eyes and let tears cover her face. The total screen time of Hathaway was shorter than I expected. Not even halfway into the movie, her character was dead. For her portrayal of Fantine, Hathaway has secured her numerous prizes as well as the nomination of Academy Award for best supporting actress. Although I'm still skeptical as to how short her role was in the movie, I agree that the recognition of her efforts in Les Miserables is completely understandable.
Hugh Jackman did a splendid job as Jean Valjean, you'd never expect anything less from this great actor. A little gossip about the guy: his wife is 13 years older than him (which makes her 57). He's not the typical womanizer-type of a famous actor, which makes him even more special. The problem with Jackman is, since he's known to be great, any great work from this guy doesn't come out as a surprise. Therefore, you'd be more amazed at how some previously unknown actor/actress rise up to the top. This brings me to my next topic, the character Eponine.
Eponine is played by Samantha Barks, an English actress who sang in theater, but never appeared in any movie before Les Miserables. Her portrayal of Eponine basically stole the show with her strong presence and touching performances. Eponine is the daughter of the Thenardier family, a bunch of thieves, burglars and fraudsters. Eponine however, turned out to be innocent and kind-hearted. She had an unrequited infatuation with Marius Pontmercy. Marius on the other hand, was in love with Cossette and even had Eponine running errands so he could meet Cossette. Dressed as a street girl in rags, Eponine was pretty for her crowd. She was good-looking, her voice stunning, and her story of a heart-breaker is something most people could relate with. All these factors contributed to the popularity of her character. Eponine later died at the hands of a Parisian soldier as she took a bullet for Marius. Her death-scene was a bit strange, from the camera angle, it looked like she was actively committing suicide by placing the soldier's musket on her chest. Then the weapon fired and she suffered a mortal wound. Couldn't she have just pushed it away, so she could save her loved one without sacrificing herself? Now think from the soldier's perspective. If you are the man on the firing end of the musket, you got your aim on your target, but suddenly another enemy combatant came and tried to grab your weapon. What would you do? A natural reaction would be fighting off the sudden assailant with your gun. So Eponine didn't try to get herself killed, she was just not powerful enough to wrestle with a well-trained soldier (or maybe she did want to die, but then the scene could have been played better). I think Eponine is a better supporting character than Fantine, partly because she leaves a stronger presence in the story.
Having Russell Crowe playing Inspector Javert was another good decision. From other works I've mostly seen Javert portrayed as a shrewd and cruel figure. Although I believe that Javert is not necessarily evil, it's his uncompromising devotion to the law in contrast to Valjean's kindness that made him spiteful. When the antagonist wears the face of the noble gladiator Maximus Decimus Meridius, it really blurs the "black and white" morality of the story. The struggle between Valjean and Javert is never about good and evil, they are just two men with different perspectives. It's another symbolization of the friction between the upper-class society and the commoners, which is basically what Les Miserables is about. The story is very sad at times, the narrative however, makes you focus on the unyielding, positive force of life and of love. Even if you don't like musical, this movie is still a must-see. The real musical-lovers should have watched it before reading my review.
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
echoes the beating of the drums,
There is a life about to start
when tomorrow comes!
- Enjolras, Do you hear the people sing?