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Monday, 25 February 2013

Les Miserables: Seriously, Javert? Seriously??

At the very end of its theatrical release schedule, I have finally gone to see Les Miserables. To be honest, I'm pretty impressed with myself because I managed to remain completely information-free about the whole thing. As in, I knew nothing whatsoever about the book, the musical or the movie prior to actually watching it. In fact, here is the sum total of my Les Mis background knowledge as of this morning.
  • It's a musical.
  • It's set in France.
  • Anne Hathaway plays a prostitute who gets her hair cut off for some reason
  • There are some cute young guys that Tumblr seems excited about. They might be revolutionaries?
Also, I sort of assumed that because it was categorised in my head as "a musical", there would be a) some spoken dialogue, and b) dancing. Wrong on both counts, but NBD.
Anyway, it was definitely the movie to watch if you like your onscreen emotions turned up to 11 on the Overwrought-o-meter, and are OK with the camera being rammed up Hugh Jackman's nose at all times. Like seriously, chill out with the close-ups. People had actually warned me about this beforehand and I was all, "No, what do I know about cinematography? I won't notice." But no, I noticed. It was like someone's parents were there with a camcorder, trying to zoom in on every important moment of their kid's school play. ZOOM IN MORE ON ANNE HATHAWAY'S SNOTTY NOSE WHILE SHE'S CRYING!! ZOOM IN MORE ON HUGH JACKMAN'S FACE WHILE HE'S EMOTING ABOUT GOD!! ZOOM IN MORE ON THIS TRAGIC STARVING KID WHO DOESN'T HAVE ANY FACIAL SORES LIKE THE OTHER KIDS, BECAUSE SHE'S THE STAR! etc etc.
The main thing I got from Les Mis, though, was that Russell Crowe's Javert is A+++ hilarious. Like, every time he came onscreen I started laughing uncontrollably because he was 100% straight-up doing an impression of when Harry was obsessively stalking Draco in Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince. JAVERT JUST REALLY WANTS TO CHAIN UP THAT TALL, SWEATY, MUSCULAR CRIMINAL, OK? HE WANTS TO CHAIN HIM UP AND CONTROL HIM AND PUNISH HIM FOR HIS SINS
I couldn't help imagining what all the other cops must think of Javert. Javert thinks he's the most upstanding, hard-working, god-fearing guy in the entire police force, but the other cops totally talk about him behind his back: Do you know that Inspector Javert guy who always looks like he hasn't showered in a week, and stands slightly too close when he's talking to you? Yeah, yeah, he's literally been stalking this random ex-con for like thirty fucking years. Not like a murderer or anything. This guy stole some bread and now Javert's all up in his grill, following him around the country, I don't even know. One time I went to his house to pick up some paperwork and it was just a mattress bed on the floor with Wanted posters of Jean Valjean taped all over the walls, the ceiling, the windows, every-fucking-where. Some things you just don't want to know, you know?
Aside from the roiling tide of Javert's sweat and/or self-loathing obsession with that evil, villainous thief who totally has the muscle power to lift an entire cart on one shoulder, I... guess there was some other stuff in the movie? Like, Anne Hathaway was good but I wouldn't personally have given her an Oscar for Fantine. But then again, I would have given her an Oscar for Rachel Getting Married in 2009, so all's well that ends well. I admit I started to feel a little tired whenever Helena Bonham Carter came onscreen, because she really does play herself in every role now, and not necessarily in a good way. Philosophically speaking I don't have anything against never brushing your hair, but if you're an actor it's kind of helpful to look slightly different in each role, you know? Whereas Helena Bonham Carter, charming though she is, looks like she's been wearing her own clothes, hair and makeup in every role she's played in the past 5 years.
Someone who knows more about the literary merits and background of Les Mis will probably have to explain to me just what the impact of the story is meant to be. Perhaps I'm a pessimist, but all I thought when I came out of the cinema was "revolutions are pointless, and there are definitely going to be food poverty riots in real life, near where I live, in the near future". The fact is that I don't actually think revolutions/direct action/political protests are pointless in the slightest, but all the cute young idealist boys in Les Mis certainly were hideously familiar. Particularly Marius. It's very difficult to warm to a poor-little-rich-boy character in a movie where are starving on the streets in every scene -- even if he does have cute freckles and the guileless expression of an anime character.


  1. The whole part with the revolutionaries really bugged me! I definitely felt like a big part of the book is that revolutions/protests etc are really important and the revolutionaries are much more serious about it than the movie lets on. I realise that they couldn't really keep the pages and pages about all that in because the movie (and musical I guess) is much more focused on telling Jean Valjean/Cossette's story but it still annoyed me.

  2. The real question is, did you like the music? Famous novel, acting, tragedy, blah blah blah. The reason why it's been one of the world's most popular musicals for more than 25 years is the gorgeous music.

  3. Yeah, I came to the book through the musical, and while I do still love the stage version a lot I do get more pissed off at how it treats the Amis de l'ABC every time I reread the book. They are older, more serious, better organized, and more deeply involved with other revolutionary groups than you would guess from the musical. (And, also, had a very good reason to believe the people wouldrise up and overthrow the regime when they took to the barricades-- namely, that's exactly what happened in 1830, when they ousted Charles X in the July Revolution.)

  4. I wish I could give you a good answer to your question about revolutionaries, but I've never thought about the movie as degrading revolutions in that way. Simple and cliche as it is, I believe the movie simply attempted to say "nobody wins in the revolution," but I see your point. I agree with likesands that the book does a much better job of discussing and supporting revolutions. It's inevitable that something would be lost in translation after trimming and trimming at the original story (the musical already cuts so much at ~4 hours so it's a miracle they could tell the bare minimum at 2.5 hours), so I highly suggest reading the book.

  5. My brother and I walked out of the movie, believing that Javert, for over 30 years, anytime anything bad happened in France, he blamed Valjean for it.

    Someone stole some bread: "VALJEAN!"

    Murder: "VALJEAN!"

    We now tend to shout his name when anything bad happens in our lives.

    (I'm just glad the director wasn't nominated for an Oscar. I have seen the musical three times on stage, and I've never needed to be up in anyone's face to understand the emotion of what is going on. It seemed to cheapen everything for me)

  6. But you gotta admit, if you're going to obsess over somebody for thirty years, Hugh Jackman is a damned fine choice. :)

  7. I haven't seen the movie yet, though have read the book and saw the musical ages ago. But regarding the close-up, you might want to check out this article from Film Crit Hulk on the cinematography choices in the film. Fascinating read.

  8. omg Gav, are you me? ;_____; This whole post is exactly my thought for these past 3 weeks (lol)

    All of my friends, ALL, have their unconditionally love for Les mis (50% of them actually cried) while I'm like...meh :-/ Granted, it's not that awfully utterly bad but all I could think of when I walked out the cinema was "urghhh awkwardddd" Everything was so awkward there, even Javert. ESPECIALLY JAVERT (My friend told me Russell Crowe actually rejected this role on the first offer, saying he didn't feel like it's a role for him but the director insisted.. - I didn't fact-check but it sounds kinda legit. idk)


    - Javert is a creepy stalker : A+++++

    - Helena Bonham Carter plays herself AGAIN : A++++ (but she did seem to bath, comb and wear clean clothes in The King's speech) I like her 'i don't give a fuck' face on red carpet very much but, acting and career wise, I'd love to see her much much more in non-Tim Burton films or the likes.

    - cute freckled face doesn't really help Marius :-/ (poor Eddie, I had such high hope for you..)

  9. it was ok, i guess??

  10. thanks! you're the second person to link me to that, actually :)) clearly it's good

  11. LOLLL, that sounds very accurate.

  12. As someone with two history degrees who's been living in the early end of the Les Mis era doing a costume production thesis, I have to say that the costumes were 90% dead on, and those that weren't were usually just slightly out of time period- every once in a while something very 1830s appeared in the 18-teens, and I had a few gripes with button choices and "fantastic" whore outfits, but overall, a much more viable oscar choice than Anna Karenina. I ragefaced for a good day over that.

  13. oh, awesome! i'm glad to hear they were pretty accurate.

  14. russell crowe is now IN LOVE with javert, though. it's almost tragic, really. he SUPER LOVES that role but most people found him kind of embarrassing in it...

  15. That 'revolutions-are-pointless' idea is probably what a lot of people get from the film, and I know a lot of reimaginings/homages take that road- see Pratchett for e.g. "people die and nothing changes".
    But, although the book's action takes place during a failed revolt, Victor Hugo is very careful to point out that the Parisians did rise, and successfully oust the king, not long afterwards- he states pretty clearly that the Les Mis revolt was just badly judged- basically the young idealists were champing at the bit about the injustice around them and tried to do something about it before the people were ready to support them.
    I think in the musical (though I haven't seen it live), and certainly in the early plan for the film, they were going to show Marius and Cosette at the head of a successful revolution in that final song, showing that their friends hadn't died completely in vain and that their cause would eventually triumph.
    IDK, I think it's tricky to condense the story to time and not end up with a very simplified plot compared to Hugo's brick. Not necessarily a terrible thing.The romance was slightly more convincing in the book (mostly 'cause Marius knew/was infatuated with/courted Cosette for like a year before the barricades). Marius was always a bit of a prat, though.

  16. Javert was only following the law and also Jean Val Jean also is blamed for fraud as he pretended to be a man who he wasn't and also Javert is Just following the law which is his job and if policemen didn't do what occured in the law they were humiliated. So you a bit wrong, and also are you American?