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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Les Miserables

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway star in "Les Miserables."
If your Christmas wish list includes a lavish, big-budget musical crafted in the classic Hollywood manner, then "Les Miserables" (Universal) is just the ticket.

This rousing entertainment offers something for everyone: soaring anthems, tear-jerking romance, thrilling drama—and a positive portrayal of the Catholic faith.

In fact, this faithful adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, which was transformed into a worldwide stage sensation by impresario Cameron Mackintosh, is a deeply moral story. Characters rise and fall calling on God for grace and mercy, seeking personal redemption while trying to better the lives of others.

As the central character, ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), comes to realize, "To love another person is to see the face of God."

Director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") paints with an enormous brush and "Les Miserables" is staged on an epic scale, overstuffed with grand set pieces and hundreds of extras. Hooper's fondness for extreme close-ups heightens the emotional wallop, and will likely send some viewers scrambling for tissues.

The labyrinthine story spans two decades in post-revolutionary France and revolves around three characters: Valjean, who breaks his probation and seeks a fresh start; Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), obsessed with finding Valjean and bringing him to justice; and the doomed Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who sacrifices everything for the care of her out-of-wedlock daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen).

The kindness of a Catholic bishop (Colm Wilkinson) convinces Valjean to amend his life. Over time, he changes his identity, becoming the benevolent mayor of a village and a factory owner. When Fantine is unjustly fired from his factory and forced into a life of prostitution, Valjean steps in, promising the now-dying woman that he will raise Cosette as his own.

Cosette has been living with the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), wicked tavern owners and professional pickpockets. Their collusion with Javert makes for a narrow escape for Valjean.

Years pass, and Cosette has blossomed into a refined young woman (Amanda Seyfried). On a Paris street she meets a young revolutionary, Marius (Eddie Redmayne). It's love at first sight, much to the chagrin of fellow rebel Eponine (Samantha Barks), who happens to be the Thenardiers' daughter.

Can Cosette and Marius' love survive the rising tensions of the mob, as streets are barricaded and weapons drawn? Is Javert closing in on Valjean at long last? "Les Miserables" barrels along to a satisfying climax that is profound in its endorsement of the power of faith.

With little spoken dialogue and 50 songs from composer Claude-Michel Shonberg, and lyricist Herbert Kretzmer, "Les Miserables" is more opera than musical. Fortunately the actors' pipes are up to the challenge, especially Hathaway, whose heartbreaking rendition of the signature tune, "I Dreamed a Dream," is sensational.

The film contains scenes of bloody violence, a prostitution theme, and nongraphic nonmarital sexual activity. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.





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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog We need do no more than we are doing at present; that is, to love divine Providence and abandon ourselves in his arms and heart.<br />—St. Padre Pio

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