Movie Review Les Miserables


There is something in me which resists popular movies, music, and TV series. That new piece of entertainment that everyone is talking about so often disappoints me by its shallowness or downright offensiveness. “It can’t be good if it’s that popular;” I argue, “we have such abominable collective taste”. A quick view of the cable film offerings for New Year’s Day, including such winners as “The Hangover” and “Knocked Up” confirms this cynical attitude about entertainment.

I was finally convinced by my insistent teenagers that I must see Les Miserables.  I had seen the play on Broadway, as well as three earlier film versions, so it wasn’t the story I was resisting, just the fact that the latest version is so popular. There must be some Church bashing, offending of traditional morality, or just plain banalization of Victor Hugo’s eternal themes of repentance, redemption, and sacrifice, I feared. I did not want to see a beautiful story deconstructed by some egotistic director.

I humbly admit I was wrong. From the breathtaking opening scene, the soaring music and ethereal cinematography held my emotions captive, causing me to laugh and even weep.  I was not alone. The theatre was full of people — from seniors to college-age kids — who stayed behind after the credits, engaged in passionate discussions of the film’s themes, the advantages of operatic style, and even the idea of redemptive love.

The poignant acting of Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean) Amanda Seyfried (Cosette as an adult) and Russell Crowe (Javert) was the perfect complement to the passionate score. Only Amanda Seyfried and her younger counterpart Isabelle Allen (young Cosette) have the angelic voices required by the demanding songs, but that didn’t diminish the film’s commanding impact. It rather heightened it as I was moved by the raw emotions in voices, not their beauty. Jean Valjean was in agony for much of the film, and if his voice had the range and power of Pavarotti it might have been distracting, even comical. Did it ever bother you that Mimi in La Boheme sings a full-bodied aria just before succumbing to consumption? Save the operatic voices for the CD, the actors’ singing was sensitive to the story and kept this viewer engrossed more than any previous version.

Les Miserables was beautiful in an even more vital manner. Never in recent films has the Catholic Church’s role in the life of an individual been so poetically depicted. The genial bishop who evoked St Jean Vianney, the feminine grace of the wimpled nuns, the splendor of the chapels of Jean Valjean’s conversion and final departure into heaven: the Catholic Church’s important role in the conversion of a bitter convict to a saint is one which is drawing even the cynical to the theatres. We have experienced God’s grace; we know it when we see it, and there is nothing more rewarding than to see a true artist’s depiction of it on screen.

The screenwriters, composers, and directors not only didn’t hinder Hugo’s original intent, they magnified it using the best of special effects, cinematography, and orchestration. That is what art is meant to be, raising one’s mind and heart toward heaven, or, in other words, prayer. Les Miserables reaches that height at times and I left the theatre comparing my own attitude towards my loved ones to Jean Valjeans’. In other words, were there more films of the beauty and power of Les Miserables there might be more Jean Valjeans in the world.

The moral impact of the film rests upon stark contrast between the noble and ignoble: depictions of sexuality, immodesty, disturbing violence and vulgarity. This is not a film for children or young adolescents. Older teens will find this film inspiring. It’s the must see of the year.


About Author

Married for 19 years to Francisco, raising three daughters, Gabriela, 17, Isabella, 13 and Christina, 9. It was Christina's Down syndrome inspired Leticia to stop teaching English at a local college to full time freelance writing and media advocacy for children with Down syndrome You can find her work all over the web, and in print in National Catholic Register, Canticle, The Alhambran, National Right to Life News, Celebrate Life, and Faith and Family magazine. Leticia has been a guest on several radio shows and podcasts. She was recently interviewed about her advocacy group KIDS Keep Infants with Down Syndrome on EWTN by Teresa Tomeo at the March for Life and she will be appearing as a guest on their show, "Faith and Culture" shortly. She has contributed stories to "Stories for the Homeschool Heart", "Letters to Priests" and, is about to publish a collection of stories from Catholic Special Need Parents entitled, "A Special Mother is Born" with WestBow Press this spring. She is a popular speaker on family issues and the spiritual life.

  • KMc

    Question: my 18 year old son took his girlfriend to see this last week and dang near walked out because he said it was SO inappropriate – his girlfriend has seen both the stage show and the movie (now) and said the movie was VERY inappropriate….can you give me some feedback on this? I let him take her because I had seen the stage show and the “delicate” parts were handled very well (you knew what was going on w/out SEEING what was going on)…not so w/ the movie according to my son and his girlfriend – my 16 year old son was asked to see the film by friends of the family and we had to say no just from the older brothers review – any thoughts?

    • Bob Struble

      Well, at least the brothel was depicted as sordid. That and worse is endorsed as positive in America’s mass media. I don’t know how to protect teenagers from multifarious obscenities in today’s pervasive popular culture.