Film Review: Les Misérables

Reviewed by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried. Directed by Tom Hooper.

[Stars: 3.5/5]

I must start this review by revealing that I don’t love musicals. I prefer dialogue to be spoken rather than sung, and I’ve never understood how everyone in a scene is able to sing so well. I reckon if real life were a musical, I’d let the team down with my poor singing.

I think the last film musical I saw was High School Musical 3 (please forgive), and I can’t say that I’ve been soarin’, flyin’ etc. to the cinema to see many others since.

This is probably why it’s taken me so long to see the 2012 film release of Les Misérables. But having just seen it, I was impressed at how well director Tom Hooper had taken the classic Victor Hugo novel-turned-musical, and adapted it to the big screen.

In case (like me) you haven’t read/seen the story before, Les Misérables is set in France in the early 1800s. The action focuses on convict Jean Valjean (Jackman), whose crime was stealing bread to feed his family. There’s no chorus of One Jump Ahead here in case you were wondering; that’s Disney’s Aladdin.

After serving his sentence, Jean is released and shown kindness by a bishop which makes him feels compelled to turn his life around. He becomes mayor of a town, but he is not completely free of his past – Jean is always looking over his shoulder for police inspector Javert (Crowe, in a hat) who lives by the law, and believes one-time crims are always crims.

The action continues from there over many years and the majority of dialogue is sung. It’s really interesting how in musicals you can get lost in the music and after a time forget that everything is spoken to a melody. The sets and costume design are top notch, and Hooper has shot the film beautifully. As Anne Hathaway’s Fantine sings the iconic I Dreamed a Dream, the whole song is one continuous close-up of Hathaway’s face. You’re captured by the moment, and sucked in to the emotion of it all.

One big theme running through Les Misérables is grace. That word simply means undeserved kindness. As I mentioned above, at the beginning of the film Jean is shown grace by the bishop and this is the catalyst to Jean’s new way of living across the rest of the film, as he shows grace to Fantine, her daughter Cosette, and more. You might say that his actions seem works-based (that he needs to make up for his past wrongs) however if you focus on the action of the bishop and the profound effect it had on his life, it’s a humble reminder of the power that grace brings.

On the flipside, police inspector Javert really doesn’t have any grace to offer. In fact, he has no forgiveness to bring at all. He sees Jean only as a convict, and at one point in the film he sings:

Honest work. Just reward. / That’s the way to please The Lord.

But is that true? Is God one who we need to work to please? Or, does God show grace in the same way that the bishop showed Jean?

The Bible helps us with this question. Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved… For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

God is so good. We all reject him and rebel against him. We’re all criminals – even dead in his sight because of our sin. But God shows us amazing grace in Jesus. All we need to do is trust in him with our lives and we can be saved. It’s a gift. There’s no works we could do to please God, it’s only be his undeserved gift to us in Jesus that we are saved. But once we trust in Jesus, we are called to live for him rather than ourselves, and we show grace to others in the process.

Even if you’re not a fan of musicals, I reckon you’ll get a kick out of Les Misérables. It’s a well-told story about grace and redemption. I’m giving it three-and-a-half out of five stars.

Les Misérables is available on Blu-Ray and DVD on Quickflix.

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