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I watched Les Miserables on Christmas and I was convinced there were no words to describe its grandiosity—its lasting impression was too overwhelming to put into words.
But the flashbacks to Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” performance and especially young Isabelle Allen’s “Castle on a Cloud” have convinced me I need to give it a try.
My first reaction to the adaptation was towards the poignant, non-traditional themes of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece in this modern age of clichéd romantic storylines and comic book/novel-turned movies. They include the strong commitment to Christianity, the judgment that comes with it (especially seen through Javert), the pursuit of redemption (from Jean Valjean), poverty, prostitution, broken dreams, struggles of a single mother in 19th century France (Fantine), child neglect, childhood innocence (of little Cosette), class differences, freedom, war, impassioned youth (preparing for a revolution), first love (Marius and Cosette), unrequited love (by Eponine), paternal love and devotion (Jean Valjean for Cosette), camaraderie, brotherhood (Marius’ “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”), and death.
And I feel that their importance is timeless, therefore, remains relevant and necessary for all future generations to comprehend. (Not the absurdity labeled as a comedy these days like “Bridesmaids.”)
And all of these themes are presented in a strong ambience of the era of the French Revolution. The authentic settings and depictions of such poverty, strong Christian devotion and a struggling, fervent lower class gives richness to the delivery of Hugo’s classic—and a bit of humor with Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the wicked Thernardiers.
Then there’s the matter of director Tom Hooper’s idea for singing live—brilliant. The powerful projection of passion and emotion could not have been achieved without the freedom to apply the context of the lyrics to the delivery of the songs. It is evident with Hugh Jackman’s multiple soliloquys, Anne Hathaway’s breathtaking performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” and Eddie Redmayne’s moving “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” that unfailingly bring tears to the eyes of their audience. They are forced to sympathize with the singers who demonstrated an unmistakable commitment to their roles.
The adaptation showed many tragic deaths but the final scene confirmed it was not in vain and their aspirations may have been realized, giving the film a triumphant close.
There were many ways this film could have failed, like in the risky endeavor for live singing and the overall attempt of an adaptation of a stage sensation like Les Miserables. And as expected, some may disagree, but with its refreshingly new themes and a cast to effectively present it, I give it five stars.
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