I will admit this up front: Les Miserables is probably my favorite musical of all time. I've seen it performed several times (the best Jean Valjean I've ever heard sing the role continues to be Craig Shulman), and I know the libretto practically by heart. So it was with these strong feelings about Les Miz that I saw Tom Hooper's new film adaptation of Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boubil's brilliant telling of the Victor Hugo novel.
One way to judge any performance of Les Miz is by the number of tissues required. Tears are a byproduct of involvement, emotion, being right there with the actors as the story unfolds. And by the end of Les Miz, my every last tissue was sodden, my makeup was a mess, and I couldn't quite muster words until we made it all the way to the lobby.
Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean, an impoverished young man who had stolen a loaf of bread to help feed his dying sister. Caught by the police, Valjean served 19 years before parole, a virtual second imprisonment that means a life of enforced poverty with no chance of redemption, and a very good chance of going back to prison (or death by starvation).
Upon his release from prison, and after being refused work and even a place to rest without showing his papers (which mark him as an ex-convict, and mean instant refusal), he is finally given sanctuary at a church where he repays the kindness of his host by stealing some of his valuable silver. Caught with the silver, Valjean is yet again shown kindness by the priest, who insists he gave the silver to his guest, and in fact gives him yet more. Now free, Valjean understands the burden under which this single act of compassion places him to become a better man.
Valjean lives under the accusing, watchful eye of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), whose sole mission in life is to keep a short leash on this "dangerous criminal" for whom, according to the law, redemption is not possible.