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IN SHORT: Cranky's mom'd like it.. (wait, there's more . . .) [Rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements. 157 minutes]
That's not totally fair. Cranky thought the first two thirds of Les Misérables was spectacular. Period. Despite the occasional jumps in time that moves the story ahead eight or ten years each jump, the main story and all that supports it, holds up just fine. It will be an Oscar contender, when the time comes. We weren't swept up by the story in the manner that two-thirds of our packed auditorium was for the second ever showing of the film (lucky Cranky). For those that are new to Cranky, we're not all that big on musicals so, watching stars do the Broadway equivalent of opera on the big screen is always interesting.
For those with no interest in French history, Les Misérables is like The Fugitive. Hugh Jackman is Harrison Ford. Russell Crowe is Tommy Lee Jones. There is no one armed man but everybody sings. Women are commodities but that's just how it was back in the early 19th century.<sigh> There was a time when knowledge of Victor Hugo's novel was required by a school curriculum. Nowadays we're not so sure. Just in case . . .
Once upon a time Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) stole a loaf of bread and found himself behind jail bars for nineteen years. Five years for the theft. Fourteen more for trying to escape from jail, during which he is close to tortured by a jailer named Javert (Russell Crowe) . After 19 years as prisoner number 24601 he is paroled. The conditions of his parole require him to report to local police every 30 days, each in a different town. Somewhere along the line, not being able to get work (do the math and add the felony conviction on top...) Valjean says the hell with it. Since the only charity offered comes from a local monsignor in The Church, after a hot meal and a couple of hours of sleep courtesy Bishop Myriel (Colm Wilkinson), he rips off all the silver in the house.
The local gendarmes arrest the thief quickly as he just isn't all that good at stealing. But the Bishop doesn't press charges. The sequence is probably the funniest one in the film so we won't spoil it. The result of that interaction is the proverbial "changed man" .Flash forward eight years to 1823 in the town of Montreuil and the Jean Valjean, now known as Monsieur Madeleine, is now a prosperous factory owner. In his factory we meet our next significant character.
She is Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a quiet young woman working hard to hide the shame of having to support daughter Cosset (Isabelle Allen), without benefit of a husband. Cosette was born out of wedlock (the father scampered off) and, needless to say, that's a big no-no in Catholic France. Fantine has rebuffed the advances of the shop foreman and, being standoffish, has earned the ire of all the other women in the factory. They turn on her and she is turned out on the street by order of Monsieur Madeleine. With a daughter to support, first she sells her hair (10 francs) and then a tooth (20 francs) or two. Then, with her daughter in the care of kindly innkeepers, she falls to the only profession left to women who weren't married off. Prostitution.
Fantine's is not the only miserable one in this story. Now police Inspector Javert has come calling on Msr. Madeleine and, again we're not telling you how, comes to recognize the upstanding rich man as the long lost fugitive. He sends to Paris for instructions, and is told that there is a man facing The Court, accused of being the fugitive Valjean. So Javert apologizes to Monsieur Madeleine, face to face. There the story would end but for a street fracas that brings Valjean and Fantine face to face one more time. Shocked by what he sees, the prosperous man takes pity on the prostitute and swears to make amends for the earlier, casual dismissal at his factory. Above all, he promises to look after Fantine's daughter Cosette, if the worst should happen.
Y'see back in the nineteenth century there were still concepts of Honor and Righteousness and and Truth Duty and a "good man" upheld them all. Both Javert and Valjean are, by that definition, good men. Except for that one wee deception which would send an innocent man to a prison and a life of slavery. The consequences of "Monsieur Madeleine's" decision whether or not to come forward and save another innocent man, will power the rest of the film. We would be amiss not to acknowledge Madame and Monsieur Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen) as thieves masquerading as innkeepers, among other things, whose appearances serve to lighten an otherwise emotionally heavy handed story. Except when it comes to young Cosette, who runs a far second to their natural child Éponine (Natalya Wallace). Cosette slaves away, day after day, less than zero.
But wait there's more. Jump a decade and there is another Revolution brewing in Paris and... frankly, we could care less about student revolutionaries -- that would be Marius (Eddie Redmayne) -- and love at first site, with the nearly grown up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). The back end is as well written as the rest of the story, with links to the first act and the continuing hunt by Javert always coming to the fore. for us, t'ain't near as compelling as the manhunt.
We have explained more than we usually do for the sake of anyone like us who doesn't like to fight to pick out the story and its subplots from a nonstop run of songs and music. That being written, the basics of this story have been adapted so many times -- the original is 150 years old, by the way -- that we got to sit back and watch stars sing for their supper. What defines their star status is that at no point did my brain start wandering to thoughts like "Anne Hathaway can really sing! Or is it a voice double?"
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Les Misérables, he would have paid . . .
The $9* rating is given equally to all films that possess that certain "statue worthy" element that becomes important as the year wraps up.
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