How many times I have watched Hugh Jackman take off his shirt, flex his muscles, looks at you as if he’s going to eat you alive, I have lost count. How he fought to get this role of an ex convict, shrunken faced and almost robbed of any future in the real world is beyond me.
Jackman’s roles in the past were usually of a devil may care, vagabond nature ( as in Wolverine and in Australia), but his role as Jean Valjean is a complete turnaround, one that will place Hugh Jackman’s name in league with Clark gable(Gone with the Wind) and Charlton Heston (Ten Commandments).
The film Les Miserables set to hit Philippine theatres on January 16, 2013 is a British musical drama composed by Claude Michel Schonberg. The original French lyrics is by Alan Boublil and Jean Marc Natel with the English libretto by Herbert Kretzmer . It is based on the nineteenth century French novel by Victor Hugo.
This cinematic magnum opus directed by Tom Hooper (winner of an Oscar for his direction of The King’s Speech) takes us again into the grease-ly past of nineteenth century France in the throes of a revolution.
This ambitious undertaking, turning the stage production into a film, has elicited curious and confusing reactions, notably a critique who said it is “unlike any you’ve heard before” and then at the end says nothing really was changed.
The story of Jean Valjean is not new to many of us. It has as many adaptations in film and television as say, Batman, except that the story of Valjean is steeped with pathos such that no literary masterpiece has ever achieved. The title which means “The Wretched” is actually very popular in its French name, “Les Miserables”.
The hero Jean Valjean , who was portrayed by Friedric March(1935), Michael Rennie (1952) and Liam Neeson (1998) among others, is now essayed on screen by the male magnifique Hugh Jackman.
Jean Valjean, locked up in prison for stealing bread for his sister’s children gets 19 years of hard prison life, and gets out only finding ostracism in a society that can judge a person as easy as looking at a yellow passport that meant one is an ex-convict. Perhaps it is unthinkable for us and at the very least hard to understand how one could be imprisoned for a piece of bread when many politicians steal in front of our eyes, and call it pork barrel.
I have seen almost all the adaptations and so far the latest has a viselike grip on the core of the story. The songs rendered live by the actors while acting in the moment presents us with a fresh take on the now too familiar storyline. Expect more in this film. More drama, more magnificent backdrops as in the snow capped mountain scene where Valjean seemed to be imploring the heavens, and the chain gang hauling the galleon to harbour to name a few.
Jean Valjean’s miserable life becomes meaningful, ironically, when a working class woman, Fantine (played by Anne Hathaway), gives him her illegitimate daughter Cossette (played by Amanda Seyfried). Valjean becomes a father to Cossette.
Hathaway is brilliant in her performance without really trying. Perhaps it is one of those circumstances when an actor is given the role she is meant to do and she wakes up one morning as this particular character. Hathaway has always been cast in cute, yuppie roles (One Day),as a romantic partner(Love and other Drugs), cuckolded wife(Brokeback Mountain) but never a desperate mother fighting for a child’s well being.
As tears gush and the audience realize the same hell the destitute Fantine lives in Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”, one cannot help but become enmeshed in the struggles of the protagonists.
Jean Valjean, in a twist of faith becomes well-off, takes up the name Monsieur Madeleine. He becomes a respected businessman and mayor of his town. Cossette grows up to be a lady, and falls inlove .
But Monsieur Madeleine (a.k.a. Valjean) is finally overtaken by his past, when a police inspector by the name of Javert , ( played by Russel Crowe ) finds out Madeleine’s real identity. Javert is an obdurate lawman who sacrifices compassion for strict rule. He knew Valjean when he was a prison guard. Obssessed in capturing Jean Valjean, he follows him everywhere.
The musical grandeur of the songs, the sweeping panorama of France in conflict and the stunning performances of the cast is what will set this movie in film history. There’s something in the film that cannot be captured onstage and this is the chance to see the musical in a wider and grander spectacle, one that is hard to equal. The perspectitive is more real and immediate, and the cinematography flawless.
The recurring motif of sacrifice is the universal theme that sets this story apart because it is what makes humans soar. Selflessness. People actually believe in the goodness of Jean Valjean and secretly wish that they can have this characteristic in themselves.
One example is Valjean’s fight with his conscience in the song ‘Who Am I’? The authorities catch a man mistaken as Jean Valjean . As we know , Valjean is now Madeleine, the respected mayor of the town. One of the turning points in the movie, Jean Valjean asks himself ‘Who am I’? Can he let a man suffer in prison as he suffered knowing he is innocent?
To echo the film’s star Hugh Jackman’s sentiment in an interview, the actors were given freedom to reinvent their own depiction of each character and freedom to sing the songs with a conviction of operatic singers having a bad day . The imperfections of Hugh Jackman’s singing made it perfect which I think is what the director wanted in order to bring more humanity and soul to the movie.
Never has Wolverine’s clenched jaw, warped eyebrows and angry disposition made sense until this movie.
Prepare to be dazzled, prepare to be haunted, and to all Hugh Jackman fanatics, if you have tears, prepare to shed them now.