Wow, just...wow. OK, this will be a little longer than normal, but I am about to gush.
I confess going in that I really didn't know a lot about Les Miserables, just that it ran on Broadway pretty much since man discovered fire, and just the bare bones of the plot from when one of my English professors showed our class a video of an anniversary concert from London. Also, when Katie Holmes sang "On My Own" during an episode of Dawson's Creek. Anyone else remember that, the beauty pageant episode? Just me? OK, moving on...
But I was curious and I do love musicals, and will watch Hugh Jackman on screen even if he does nothing but read his grocery list, so off my daughter and I went. The theater was packed, mostly with groups of girls and women, older couples, and couples with females dragging along reluctant-looking men.
Les Miserables is set in 19th century France, and is based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel. It tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a man convicted and sentenced to hard labor for the crime of stealing bread for his starving family. Overseeing his sentence is Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), a man so driven by his belief in the absoluteness of the law that he sees Valjean as a dangerous man with no hope of rehabilitation. When Valjean is paroled, he is unable to find work or shelter due to his convict status. Desperation leads him to steal silver from a bishop who takes him in and shows him kindness, yet when caught by police, the bishop informs the police the silver was a gift and no crime has been committed. Overcome with shame, Valjean breaks his parole and creates a new life with a new name.
Flash forward a few years, Valjean is now the mayor of a town and owner of a factory. As luck would have it, Inspector Javert comes to his town and while distracted by that, allows his factory foreman to fire Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who is ridiculed after it is discovered her wages are going to support an illegitmate child staying with innkeepers. There weren't a lot of income opportunities for women back then, so poor Fantine is driven to selling her hair, teeth, and inevitably, prostitution.
I'll condense here, the rest of the story involves Jean Valjean discovering his mistake (too late for Fantine), and trying to make it right by caring for Fantine's child, the young Cosette. It jumps forward again to when Cosette is a young woman, when she falls in love with a young revolutionary, Marius. All the while, poor Jean Valjean is still being pursued by Inspector Javert. It's all very bleak, everyone is poor and dirty, and the word "miserables" is there for a reason.
This is a beautiful film, there's no other way to describe it. Yes, it's all done in song (be warned, no dialogue, except for a couple of spoken lines). Hugh Jackman is wonderful, and Anne Hathaway will about break your heart with "I Dreamed a Dream". I see a lot of comments online mocking Russell Crowe's singing, but he is really not bad. Sure, he doesn't have Hugh Jackman's range, but Jackman is an accomplished Broadway performer. Most of the music is for exposition purposes, but there are the famous standbys, the mournful "I Dreamed a Dream", the melancholy "On My Own" (my favorite), and the rousing "Can You Hear the People Sing?". The cast is very well done, Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia, Mean Girls) brings innocence to all the squalor, and Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen lend much needed comic relief as thieving, rather slimy innkeepers. Samantha Barks, who plays Eponine, also played that role in the London stage version. The set design and art direction really make it all very dirty and grey. If you don't at least shed a tear at the end sequence, you have no soul, I'm sorry.
Just a note, it's long, clocking in at about 2 hours and 40 minutes. If you don't like musicals, this one won't change your mind. But if you do, this is so very worth it.