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Les Misérables: A Tragically Beautiful Film

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Musicals are a unique form of entertainment, especially when taken from the live stage and put on the big screen.  The film productions of musicals often have numerous opportunities to go wrong and risk losing the emotional depth that a stage performance brings.  Les Misérables is not one of those films.  Stage musicals are more than just a showcase of talented actors/singers.  A musical is an intense, emotional journey that is strengthened by the addition of music.  A character only sings when the emotions become to intense for words to explain.  This is the heart of Les Misérables and what the film adaptation of this musical excels at.

Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the broken and degraded Fantine is nothing short of tear-jerking.  Director Tom Hooper’s risky decision to let the actors sing live rather than pre-recording a soundtrack pays off in Hathaway’s rendition of I Dreamed a Dream.  In Fantine’s moment of complete despair, having been forced to sell her hair, teeth, and body to pay for her child’s care, Hathaway chooses not to belt and impress the audience with her vocal talent.  Instead, she pulls them in with her tearful and crushing solo, showcasing the pain and desperation Fantine feels rather than Hathaway’s own voice.

But Hathaway doesn’t have all of the emotion-filled moments.  Samantha Bark’s (Eponine) song of longing and pining, On My Own, resonates almost as strongly as Hathaway’s performance.  Eddie Redmayne’s (Marius) Empty Chairs at Empty Tables allows the audience share his pain as each of his tendons strain with grief and his chin quivers with despair.

Even with these emotionally jarring moments, not every actor rose to the bar set by their cast mates.  Hugh Jackman is an earnest and believable Jean Valjean, but he doesn’t quite encompass the raw and tragic emotion that even young Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) brings to the film.  Russell Crowe, while an excellent actor in his own right, is not quite suited for the role of Inspector Javert.  His lines were sung with a painful, monotony at times and he is easily surpassed by the talent of his counterparts in an almost embarrassing manner.  His final song, Javert’s Suicide, however, comes closer to the tragic beauty the rest of Les Misérables encompasses, bringing with his death a few sniffles and tears from the audience as Crowe finally begins to tap into the his vocal range before plummeting to his death in a beautifully shot scene.

Despite its title literally translating to “The Miserable”, Les Misérables isn’t without comic relief.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter excel as the wicked Thénardiers.  They provide a lovely respite amidst the anguished and overcharged emotions of the rest of the film.  Their song Master of the House is catchy and a shining moment despite all the death and misery.

While Tom Hooper made questionable camera choices that threatened to overshadow the actor’s performances, choosing to closely focus in on the actor’s faces during odd moments and tilting the camera about in an exhausting manner, there was very little that could take away from the pure and tragic beauty of this film.