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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this all-star version of Les Miserables is an adaptation of the world-famous stage musical, which itself is based on Victor Hugo's classic 1862 novel. Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway star in the gritty, often-heartbreaking tale of justice, duty, love, and revolution. The film deals with abject poverty, prostitution, imprisonment, corruption, war, and death; all of which fans of the musical will be expecting -- but bringing the story to the screen means it has a much more realistic feel (despite the fact that the actors sing virtually all of the dialogue). Characters suffer painful beatings, degrade themselves out of desperation, engage in gun and bayonet fights, claw their way through unspeakable filth, and more. Expect some bawdy lyrics/references (with a sprinkling of curse words, including one "s--t"), a very sad scene in which an unwilling prostitute "entertains" a client, plenty of cleavage, some blood, and a few very sad deaths (including one suicide). But ultimately, Les Miserables is about the redemptive power of love and faith, and there are many moments of hope and beauty amid the miserable ones.
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What's the story?
Set in 1800s France, LES MISERABLES is a faithful adaptation of the massively popular stage show -- which is based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo. The basic story centers on Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a fugitive who's wanted for breaking parole after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread (and then trying to escape). The dogged and misguidedly by-the-book Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is at his heels, even though it's been years since Valjean left prison. Meanwhile, the former convict has dedicated himself to helping others -- especially Cosette, the young daughter of doomed factory worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who loses her job and turns to prostitution in desperation. After Fantine's death, Valjean raises Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) as his own until they're both caught up in the June Rebellion of 1832 in Paris, when Valjean encounters Javert again and must decide whether to continue to live on the run or take a stand. Cosette, meanwhile, has fallen for the young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne) -- but little does he know that Eponine (Samantha Barks), the daughter of the crooked innkeepers who had initially raised Cosette on Fantine's behalf, is enamored of him. Love and duty are intertwined in this searing epic about faith, forgiveness, class struggles, politics, poverty, and change.
Is it any good?
From the first scene, Les Miserables is both majestic and brutal, the beauty of the cinematography and the music achingly juxtaposed against the cruelty and savagery of its characters' lives. Expect your emotions to be wrenched this way and that; the actors -- especially Jackman, Hathaway, and Crowe -- have thrown everything on the table, making for a movie you won't easily forget. Director Tom Hooper had the actors sing live as the cameras rolled, and it was a brilliant decision, capturing the rawness of performances that sought to elevate the actors beyond warbling iconic songs in tune. You can feel them living the lyrics, sampling them as if they've never been sung before.
No wonder the film has earned so many accolades; this one's worth the buzz. Crowe's craggy, rock-star voice at times feels at odds with the rest of the cast's style, but his deeply felt Javert persuades. In the end, he seems utterly lost and broken, and we feel for him. At times you wish the camera would pull back a little, or that the score could quiet down a little to let a moment just be -- there's virtue in the plainly staged scene, too -- but there are few of those, thankfully. Les Miserables is a wonder.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's messages. What is it saying about faith and love? About justice and duty? Why is Javert so determined to take Valjean back to prison? Valjean clearly becomes a noble person, even though he's also a fugitive and a lawbreaker. Does he deserve to go to back to jail, as the law requires?
Why are the students so passionate about their cause? Do you agree with them that it's one worth dying for? Have you ever felt that strongly about anything?
How well do film actors perform in a movie that requires them to sing almost every line of dialogue? Why do you think filmmakers cast mostly movie stars instead of veteran stage actors?
For fans of the stage musical -- which version do you prefer, and why? What was changed? What was missing -- or added? Why do you think the filmmakers made the changes they did?
- In theaters: December 25, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: March 22, 2013
- Cast: Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe
- Director: Tom Hooper
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Book Characters, History, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 157 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
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