Anyone who says stars cannot act or great stories cannot move when presented in different formats is simply ignorant. I was touched, awed and inspired in equal measures once again by Hollywood's ability to strive for excellence and bring something new to the table. In this case a musical version of the beloved French literature classic.
It was a delight to watch so many good actors come together and create a magical performance that blew the mind to bits. I am not going to use the word 'great' here and damn myself because, if you ask me, the film worked because of the seamless effort of the ensemble cast, the direction, the music and the excellent camerawork, the sets, the lights, the angles and the seemingly ageless story...
Hats off to my favorites, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter they simply shone through and how effortlessly! One tore my heart to pieces selling off first her hair, then her teeth and finally her body to send money to unscrupulous couple taking care of her born-out-of-wedlock child.
The mark of great literature is that it never dates. Fantine could have been a damned woman, in any age, a single mother with no special skills to earn money. An abandoned and fallen woman with a young girl child who she has to leave behind to shelter her from life's ability to mock and thrash. She exists among us - dying, bleeding ans selling herself bit by bit till she has nothing to sell but her soul and finally her dreams!
The other, was delightful as always as the con woman stealing and pilfering at every step. No one can surpass Helena in enacting the strange and the weird with an exception to Johnny Depp but, he wasn't here to support her though Sacha Baron Cohen did a great job matching her stroke for stroke.
Hugh Jackman my favorite paranormal icon was so nuanced and restrained as Jean Valjean a character straight out of literary cannons that could have easily overshadowed everyone given the strength of the author-backed character. But, he came across as no hero but a victim of circumstances. A damned and desperate man throughout his life - in incarceration and also when out of the prison, he spends his life grasping at freedom and watching it slip though his fingers each time he thinks he finally has it. He came across a different person at each stage of his life and his eyes spoke volumes.
Valjean was the narrator of an extraordinary story and Jackman stayed true to that - not overwhelming, nor heroic (as we are used to seeing Jackman) - but, just as Jean Valjean would have been if he could have jumped out of the book. The restrain in his character was also necessary because Jean Valjean is a tormented man of God! He is scared but, his fears are not for himself but, for those he is responsible for.
Russell Crowe seemed lacking and because his portrayal had received critical flack all through last year, I paid some attention to his Javert. Javert was painted black by Victor Hugo. There wasn't much Crowe could do with Javert because he is a mean and one-dimensional soul. Though I felt Crowe tried his best. His final scene where Javert, unable to reconcile to the truth that he had been wrongly hunting down all his life, a compassionate man whose greatest crime was that he had stolen bread for his hungry nephew, commits suicide by jumping into Seine, reminded me of the scene from Shakespeare's Hamlet where the prince encounters his father's ghost and starts walking down the path of madness. A soliloquy is very tricky to carry and he does it pretty well though Jackman pulls off better ones mostly because he repertoire allowed him a host of emotions while Crowe's did not. Add to this that Crowe's presence cannot be ignored even if his character keeps on like a nag and sticks out like a sore thumb. I think he triumphs with the portrayal because that's how the character is in the book.
For someone like me, struggling to get in touch with their real self to rise above their Karma, this is a definite watch. The story of the damned convict Jean Valjean and his strong faith and compassion is sure to strike a chord as it did with me.
It also brought back memories of school summer vacations and me reading the story of the desperate and lost man stealing silverware from the church and the young men taking the road to Revolution that led to sure death. It is a story that wraps in too much, God, Revolution, Freedom, Love (so many kinds of it), Dreams, Hope, Hatred, Desire (for Victory and for Glory) and a host of other situations and emotions that make it a difficult read and if you are not in the correct frame of mind, also a difficult movie to watch. But, watch it you must - just do it at the right time - when you find yourself asking the most important question of your life, "why was I sent on Earth?"
While you ponder that, here is an excerpt from a song from the movie that points to the heart of the story:
"There was a time when men were kind,
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting.
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting.
There was a time...
Then it all went wrong..."