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Les Misérables: Misery has never been so beautiful

The story behind the classic, Les Misérables is nothing new. Most of us are familiar with the story. We have either read the book, seen the musical, or simply been given a general rundown of the tale throughout the years. Our general fascination with Les Miz is what has made the hype behind the December 25 release of the film larger than life. Will Hugh Jackman live-up to his legacy as a quadruple-threat and nail the starring role?  Will Anne Hathaway's heavily publicized sacrifice of chopping her locks be worthwhile? And, how will movie-goers respond to a film with a script that is sung from start to finish (seriously, there are maybe 20 lines spoken and the rest are chanted in a melody). These are all questions cinephiles were anxious to have answered and had studio executives sweating out their collars.

All in all, Les Misérables may have had a few hiccups, but nothing capable of drowning out everything that went well with the film. Although there are quite a few colourful characters to keep up with, the story is rather simple. Set in 19th-century France, Les Misérables is a story that reminds us of the most basic components of humanity: strength, love, compassion, perseverance, family and survival.

Samantha Barks as Eponine
Jackman plays Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who vows to rebuild his life after he is graced with a new start from a compassionate stranger upon his release from prison. His path crosses with a young woman, Fantine (Hathaway), who is struggling to provide for her young daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). Hathaway's screen time is limited; however, her scenes are weighty, thoughtful and I certainly give her praise for belting out some difficult songs. Much of the Oscar buzz is around Jackman and Hathaway--both are worthy contenders if they do receive nominations--but the true gem in this film is Samantha Barks who plays Eponine, one third of the familiar love triangle completed with the darling affair between the young revolutionist Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Cosette. Barks is a newcomer to the big screen, but her background in theatre is evident when the 22-year-old holds your attention through her touching ballads. The storyline of a love triangle is far from new, but Barks has a specific ability to strip away the generic cliché and connect with the audiences' personal stories of love and loss.

Similar to any large film, Les Misérables has not escaped criticism. Many have been critical of the decision to cast actors who may not necessarily be the most talented singers. These comments are understood when the relentless Javert, played by Russell Crowe, is on screen. I may have caught myself wincing and shifting in my seat when Crowe belted out  his lyrics. But, for the most part the less-than-stellar vocals were sparse, and forgivable once it was clear that the meat of the characters is carried out through great acting.

Don't miss, Les Miz.


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