As you may have already gathered, I am a HUGE fan of the
musical. Four viewings (one Broadway, one Chicago, two New Orleans,
and soon to add London to the list), all soundtracks ... Hell, on a
particularly harrowing flight from New York to New Orleans several
years back, I contented myself with mentally reciting the entire
play. Yeah. I'm a fan. So you can understand my excitement.
Now I've seen the movie, and you know, I STILL don't know if I liked it or not. It's the first movie I've seen (at least in a long time) that had me so puzzled as to my overall impression. Never fear, though, I have plenty of other impressions to offer. Although, as always, I toss in a disclaimer. For all the times I have seen the play, I have read the book a mere one time, and that was many many years ago. I appreciate that the movie was based upon the book more than the musical, and as those of you who have dabbled in both are aware, the musical is very different from the book in many places. Just a thought to keep in mind as I make comparisons.
First of all, the movie in and of itself was very well done. If (and I stress the "if") you are a fan of the Valjean/Javert portion of the Les Miserables storyline, then settle back for about 2 and a half hours of entertainment. However, if you're slightly more interested in the plight of the poor people in France and the revolutionary students who tried to free them ... Well, I'd get interested in Valjean and Javert real quick.
I don't fault the movie's creators for this at all. It's a looong story, and to tell it all in movie form would take many more hours than anyone in a theater would be willing to give. They could either tell both parts cheaply or focus on one and drop the other. But it was a shame that such an integral part of the story, the part that was probably the most responsible for the tone and setting of the story, had to get the axe. Without it, Jean Valjean's story could have, conceivably, been set in any place or time period when man was treated unjustly - and geez, there aren't enough of THOSE throughout history.
Right, so the movie focused on Valjean's life and how he's hounded by that most righteous of policemen, Javert. And it was really pretty well done. Liam Neeson was surprisingly good as the story's hero, Jean Valjean. It wasn't that I expected a bad job, just that I wasn't sure of what kind of performance would be given. But I was really quite impressed. Neeson's portrayal of Valjean was much more angry and violent than those that I'm used to (Colm Wilkenson, anyone?), but not at all out of character, and a very refreshing change from the almost saintly Valjean of the musical.
Actually, all of the performances deserve nods, I can't think of one off hand that was particularly done wrong. The movie even managed to make me like Cosette, which is a rare feat indeed. If I had to single out anyone in particular as feeling "wrong", it would probably be the portrayal of Marius.
Those of you familiar with my usual attitude towards the male romantic lead in anime would not be surprised to discover that I'm not all that fond of Marius. He's nice enough and all, just that he's such a little whiner. ("Oh, do I go with Cosette, or do I fight? Waaahh ... ") But in his own way, he was a likable enough guy and I bore him no ill will. Besides, I adore Eponine, and he certainly had her seal of approval, so I was probably just missing something.
Along comes the film Marius. I find myself again unable to decide if I liked him or not. Where the musical's version was indecisive and utterly romantic, the film version knew exactly who he was, what he wanted, and how to get it, along with the conviction that can only come from being assured of success. Very un-Marius-like behaviour, I'd say. More like, hmmm, Enjolas? Who was either suspiciously absent or changed so much in the film as to be unrecognizable. I always liked Enjolas, which is probably why I find the new Marius to be appealing. But appealing or not, he resembles the Marius of the musical (and the book, from what I recall) purely in name and affection for Cosette.
Speaking of absenses, Eponine, already mentioned as my favourite character, was nowhere to be seen, despite the appearance of her name in the credits. (O_o? Nani? I saw no Eponine.) It surprised me greatly, but I really didn't miss her. I'd like to say that it was due to the film being so engrossing that she wasn't needed. Truly, she wasn't integral to the overall plot, especially shaved of starving and opressed French. However, I think it was more due to a sense of relief. As my mother pointed out, "You would rather not see her than see her done badly"; as mothers are so often want to be, she's right. The musical Eponine bears little or no resemblance at times to the manipulative little bitch in the book, and I was happy to not be presented with that interpretation. It means I can ignore it all the more easily. ^_^
Finally, we come to what was the most unsettling scene in the entire film for me. For those of you who are not in the know, I will give you a run down on these events.
Spoiler Space #24601
For the next several decades, through many different identities, Valjean is persued by Javert (who considers Valjean to be extremely dangerous and incapable of change from his formally evil ways).
I forget how their conflict comes to an end in the book, although I believe it was very much like in the play. Javert, some time earlier, was exposed as a spy amid the student revolutionaries and sentenced to be executed by "the people's court" (no, not the one that Rusty used to hang around on). Valjean has also infiltrated the group and he asks to be allowed to do Javert in. With a sneer, Javert claims that this was just the sort of thing he had always expected of Valjean; imagine his shock, then, when Valjean lets him go.
Bang bang, lots of people die, Valjean escapes and meets up again with Javert. This time, as a shock to EVERYONE, Javert lets Valjean go. With wounded Marius over one shoulder, Valjean leaves Javert to contemplate what has happened. His entire life has been devoted to recapturing someone who could not have shown mercy, because criminals, the scum of the earth, could never change. But here, it seems as though Valjean, the backbone of Javert's existance, HAS changed, and it indicates Javert's entire life has been one big misguided mess. In turmoil and a with a shattered world, Javert throws himself over a bridge, killing himself. End of Javert's story.
I'm not a huge fan of Javert, but I understand him and repect him for his conviction. He was utterly unyielding, even to himself, and while it was ultimately is undoing, I can't help but like him at least a bit for it. His death scene in the musical was extremely well done, I felt. Usually his songs were filled with the same kind of righteousness that he showed in his actions, but at the end, his fear and confusion were almost tangible, creating a very emotionally charged scene.
Here is where the movie goes downhill and, I feel, betrays itself in the end. The film shows Valjean being returned to Javert, per Javert's orders, after seeing Marius to somewhere safe where his wounds can be attended to. "I'm glad I had some time alone," says Javert to Valjean. "I needed to think." Then, after a fairly lengthy speech and discussion, Javert removes Valjean's handcuffs, shoves him to the ground, slaps the handcuffs on, and tosses himself in the Seine.
I was speechless. There are two major points I found wrong with this.
(2) This was the part that really did it in for me. While Javert is chatting away, handcuffs on his wrist, it's OBVIOUS what he's going to do. Even if you hadn't seen the play or read the book, I can't fathom anyone didn't see his suicide coming from a mile away. Especially Valjean. The entire character of Valjean is about forgiveness. He's spent all but the very beginning of the movie going around France, trying to do what's right, to finally find the power to forgive himself for his past. Based upon Valjean's attitude and the reactions of others towards him, there is NO REASON AT ALL why Valjean did NOT try to save Javert. He should have reached for him, tried to talk to him, SOMETHING. But no, Javert made his little speech, standing there for a good few minutes in chains, and then tosses himself into the water while Valjean looks blithely on. Not even a twitch from him ... not until he gets up and walks away, at which point he can only barely contain a smile that threatens to break his face in half. He all but skips down the banks of the Seine, startling a flock of birds dripping in symbolism, and then that's it, movie over.
But all of these points aside, I really did enjoy the movie. Les Miserables is a good story, and this is one adapatation of that story. I have serious grievances with its chosen ending, but all in all, I enjoyed myself. As we so often find with anime, if you can't tolerate anything changed from its original version, then don't go see this movie. But then, I'd have to recommend the same thing about the musical. If you're a musical fan who can't stand things the way Victor Hugo created them, this film isn't for you, either.
If you've neither seen the play nor read the book then I recommend the film to you, but it's impossible for me to say if you'll like it as much as I did. Still, it's worth a shot if you like a good, dramatic movie. Certainly don't go here to laugh ... it's not got "miserable" in the title for nothing, you know.