Sunday, December 30, 2012

Les Misérables & As the Gut Churns

Director Tom Hooper has done it again. Surely he is poised to take over James Cameron's title of  "king of the world". Never, in my career as a movie goer have I experienced over two hours of such intensity. My neck ached, my body quivered and my stomach heaved by the end of the movie "Les Misérables.

The story, by Victor Hugo of Hunchback of Notre-Dame fame, takes place in France during the early 1800's. Life was difficult during that time. It was just after the French Revolution and people were either very wealthy or destitute. There was not much middle ground. The protaganist, Jean Valjean, was a petty thief who was released after almost twenty years of hard labour.

The opening scene is magnificent and all consuming. It sets the stage for the rest of the movie. Hundreds of prisoners, some waist deep in water are pulling on ropes, hauling in a massive ship and singing "Look Down , Look Down". It gave me goosebumps.

After Valjean is released, his life takes a new direction when he has an encounter with a benevolent priest. Valjean changes his name, eventually opens a factory and becomes mayor. Circumstances cause him to make a promise to a young woman, Fantine that he would always look after her daughter Cosette. He is hounded throughout the film by his relentless enemy Inspector Javert.

There is some comic relief provided by the innkeeper and his wife. There are scenes of violence during the student riot. There are scenes which are shocking, scenes that are disturbing, and scenes which will make you cry. The experience is an emotional roller coaster.

This movie combines big name actors with some new, talented, unknown faces. Nevertheless, there is no one, outstanding individual in this film. I think this is a prime example of teamwork, of an ensemble cast that deserves as much recognition as can be given. The vocals are adequate. The singing is of secondary importance. Hooper's idea of having the performers sing "live" as they acted the scenes helps to give the production authenticity. The cinematography is excellent. In the close up shots, the pain, anguish and raw emotion of the characters is obvious. In my opinion, the producer, Tom Hooper is a genius and is academy award bound.

I have never been fortunate enough to see the stage version of the musical "Les Misérables". I'm fairly confident that now, I'll never need to. 

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