Les Miserables
One of the greatest literary classics of all time combined with one of the great Broadway musicals of our era now hits the big screen, and the result is nothing short of spectacular. Of course, it helps if you appreciate musicals in the first place. For the moviegoer, the appealing part is that these are not Broadway singers who can act. These are movie actors who can sing. So the performances are outstanding, and the visual effects are stunning.
Jean Valjean is played by Hugh Jackman, who delivers a very strong, sympathetic rendition of the poor guy who stole a loaf of bread to feed his sisterís family and wound up spending half his life in prison. This excessive oppression of the working poor was, of course, a primary factor leading to the French Revolution, but the Cause was not without its own difficulties, mainly an excess of idealism and a lack of realistic preparation.
One of the ironic overlays is that the bad guy, Javert, is an overzealous police detective, who makes it a life mission to bring the fugitive Jean Valjean to justice, no matter how much he may have rehabilitated himself while on the lam from the law. Russell Crowe plays this part with a grim, tunnel-visioned kind of intensity: a humorless man who sees no shades of grey, and in the end, canít tolerate the ambiguity or incongruity of the concept of redemption, either.
And ultimately, for the Christian believer, this is what makes the story so incredibly theological. The criminal Valjean is transformed by the simple act of unsolicited forgiveness by a gentle priest, whom he had already mistreated. Valjean is so stunned by this gracious demonstration of unconditional love that he literally repents, he turns his life around. He becomes an upstanding, contributing member of society, and even takes in an orphan girl, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) and raises her as how own.
But his love for her only makes his discovery by the relentless Inspector even more poignant. Valjean knows better than to ask for clemency, instead just begging for a little time, but the old-school lawman canít even allow that.
In addition to the strong primary performances by Jackman and Crowe, the secondary characters shine, as well, particularly Anne Hathaway, who delivers an Oscar-worthy rendition of the desperate Mom forced to bare her body and then sell her soul.
True, ďLes Miserables,Ē as the name implies, is not a happy film. It is not light comedy. But it is stirring and moving and heartfelt; an excellent, high-quality movie musical that this reviewer predicts will withstand the test of time.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephenís Presbyterian Church, Irving, Texas