1815. Rain falls over Toulon, the home port of France’s naval power. A ship is being dragged to shore by convicts among them Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Watching the convicts as they work is Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), making sure none attempt to escape. Javert orders Valjean to lift the fallen flagpole an act of incredible strength. When the convicts’ work is done, Javert fills out a slip of paper for Valjean Prisoner 24601 to let him know that his parole has begun. Javert makes it clear that the ticket is just “shore leave” and a badge of shame to let the world know that he is a dangerous man. Valjean corrects him, he was sentenced for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s son and spent the last 19 years a slave as punishment. Javert warns Valjean not to forget him and sends him on his way.
Valjean travels far from the port and through the cold country road but no one will assist him his sheered hair and scarred wrists betray him for what he was in the eyes of the law: a criminal. Turned away from an inn and even a jail, he cannot even sleep in the doorway of a kennel without being attacked by dogs. A kindly Bishop in Digne takes him in and gives him food. Valjean spies the Bishop’s silverware but the Bishop takes no note he invites Valjean to a spare bed next door to his own. Valjean asks the Bishop why he would do that, for Valjean could slit the Bishop’s throat in the night. The Bishop simply states that God will take care of that.
In the middle of the night, Valjean steals the silverware and escapes into the night only to be captured by policemen who found him with the silver. The policeman return Valjean to the Bishop during mass and say that Valjean claimed the Bishop had given him the silver. The Bishop lies to the police and says that he did give Valjean the silver, but that Valjean left before he could take the best the Bishop could provide a pair of silver candle holders. The policemen leave Valjean with the Bishop and the Bishop states that this is part of a higher plan for Valjean and that, on this day, the Bishop bought Valjean’s soul for God. Moved by this act of kindness, Valjean forsakes his old life tearing up Javert’s parole papers and vows to start afresh.
EIGHT YEARS LATER Javert rides into a town full of factory buildings by the shore. Inside one of these factories, a Foreman flirts with the female workers among them Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a young worker making a meager living trying to support her young daughter who stays with a pair of innkeepers. As the workers sing the praises of the owner of the factory, the Mayor, the Foreman continues his advances on Fantine - much to their displeasure.
At the end of the work day, Fantine removes a letter which another woman steals away and reads before the rest: “your child needs a doctor, so you must send money quick.” The woman starts to bring the letter to the Foreman but Fantine attacks her to get it back when the Mayor arrives to break up the scuffle revealing himself to be Jean Valjean. But before he can settle the matter, he sees Javert up in his office and is distracted from dispensing justice. He hurries upstairs while the woman who stole the letter shows it to the Foreman. The Foreman throws her out into the street, her cries for mercy not reaching Valjean in his office.
Javert introduces himself as the man who has been assigned to maintain law and order in the town. He does not recognize Jean Valjean, though Javert swears he looks familiar. Their meeting is disrupted by a loud crash out in the yard. The pair hurries out where they see the heavy cart has toppled onto a nearby man and begins to push the man into the mud. Without a second though, Valjean stoops and lifts the cart which stirs a memory in Javert of the convict long ago. As Javert questions it, he pushes the thought from his mind that the Mayor is Valjean. How could the Mayor be a parole breaker?
Destitute and alone, Fantine wanders around the town and finds a pawn broker. As sailors come to find whores, Fantine trades a locket she carries for 4 francs instead of the ten she knows it is worth. Short on money and desperate to earn money for her daughter, she then sells all her hair to a wig maker for 10 more francs. She asks for a job after but the wig maker turns her away forcing her to trade her molars to a denture maker. After the teeth are removed, she has no more means to make money and stumbles off towards a whore house where she is taken in and emotionally broken.
Time passes. Fantine, sickly and wandering the streets for clients, sees Jean Valjean walking through the town handing alms out to the poor and starts to approach him when a wealthy man steps up to her, wanting to have a look at what she’s willing to sell. When she rejects him, he tells her that she’s a whore and can’t say no to a customer. He assaults her and Fantine responds by scratching him across the face. As Javert arrives at the scene, Fantine protests that she must keep working for her daughter’s health. Javert tells Fantine to save her breath as Valjean steps in believing her story. He asks for a way to help her and takes her away as she tells him how his Foreman threw her out into the streets. Horrified, he swears to help Fantine and her young daughter. Javert looks on as they leave.
In his office, Javert receives a letter from Paris. He is shocked by what the letter contains and immediately seeks out the Mayor. Valjean receives him and Javert explains that in his suspicions of Valjean’s identity he sought confirmation from the courts but the man named Jean Valjean is a prisoner in Paris. Valjean is caught off guard by this news. He sends Javert away despite the fact that Javert is more than willing to be charged with the crime of slander and contemplates his next move, unsure as to whether or not he can allow an innocent to take his place in prison as a slave. Valjean goes straight to Paris and confesses his true identity freeing the man, despite the fact the Judge thinks the Mayor is simply ill.
Valjean visits Fantine in the hospital. Fantine is on her deathbed and hallucinates that her young daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen), is by her side. Valjean kneels at her side and swears that as long as he is living he will stay at look over Cosette. She takes Valjean’s hand and begs him to stay until she passes. He waits with her until she dies and Javert appears drawing his sword to arrest Valjean. But Valjean cannot go yet. He begs for three days but is forced to fight his way out escaping off into the night.
Cosette who was not ill as the innkeepers had claimed sweeps the floors. The innkeepers Madame Thénardier (Helena Bonham Carter) and her husband (Sacha Baron Cohen) are a pair of two timing thieves. Monsieur Thénardier robbed English corpses off the fields of Waterloo, and together with his wife they rob their customers blind in second class accommodations and use Cosette to clean up after them. One night, they send her out to get water from a well but the buckets are heavy. Valjean approaches her and carries them for her and she shows him the way back to the inn. The Thénardiers try to rob him blind but Valjean deftly avoids their attempts only to pay them handsomely to take Cosette away. He takes her away to Paris in a cab but Javert is in pursuit. He corners the pair in Paris in a dead end alley way but Valjean scales the wall with Cosette and, with the help of the man who was trapped beneath the cart earlier, evades detection disappearing into the night.
NINE YEARS LATER. A young boy, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone), makes his way through the streets, observing everything as he passes. There is unrest in the streets with the poor oppressed and discontent. Outside the house of General Lemarque, students gather to show their support for the dying general they refer to as “a champion of the people.” Among the students are Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) and Marius (Eddie Redmayne). Marius’ grandfather, the wealthy Monsieur Gillenormand, is ashamed at Marius’ actions.
Marius leaves the gathering and returns to a hovel that he lives in away from his family’s wealth. He is approached by Eponine (Samantha Barks), the Thénardiers’s daughter, who points out that everyone knows Marius comes from privilege but he insists he never took a franc he didn’t earn. Marius, however, is oblivious to Eponine’s affections. As he leaves the apartment to go to the street, he looks across by chance and sees Jean Valjean, now looking his age, with Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) by his side. Their eyes meet and they are instantly smitten. However, Cosette and Valjean are being followed by the Thénardiers and their gang. As Valjean passes out alms, he is called out to by Madame Thénardier who recognizes him. Thénardier and his men surround Valjean until Eponine cries out that the police are coming. Javert arrives, once again failing to recognize Valjean as his face is turned away giving Valjean the chance to disappear. Javert mutters to himself about Valjean revealing to Thénardier that Valjean is a criminal as well and goes off in pursuit. As he passes, he surprises Gavroche who falls to the ground, vowing to remember this.
Marius has followed Eponine and begs her to help him find Cosette. She reluctantly agrees. Marius goes off to a café where the students have started gathering weapons and ammunition: preparing for a revolution. Enjolras makes fun of Marius, clearly seeing that Marius is in love, and asks if he will fight by their side when the time comes. Marius, though enamored with Cosette, agrees to stay with the cause.
Cosette paces in the house she shares with Valjean hidden from the world. She expresses an interest in learning of Valjean’s past and he promises that he will share it with her but that in the end the truth is given by God. Marius and Eponine arrive outside the house and Cosette sees Marius by the gates from the window. She rushes out to him and they confess their love. Valjean comes outside and Cosette retreats indoors, dropping her handkerchief, which Marius retrieves. Eponine lingers still as her father and his gang arrive to attack Valjean and steal his money. Eponine tells her father to leave them alone but he has no intention of losing the money he could get from Valjean. Eponine screams which calls Valjean out, alert fearing that Javert had found and harmed Cosette. Valjean tells her that they are going to leave and escape to England where they will both be safe. Cosette quickly scribbles a note for Marius and leaves it on the gate. Eponine who has lingered outside the gate, takes the note.
The general dies and the students take over his funeral procession. As they come together, they begin their revolution building up a large barricade in front of the café. Javert, aware of their intentions, tells his men that he will infiltrate their ranks. They raid stores of their weapons and prepare to make a stand. Eponine joins Marius at the barricade but does not give him the letter. He expresses concern for her safety. Javert goes to “scout” the French soldiers side and returns to the students with misinformation until Gavroche outs Javert as a spy. He is quickly bound and thrown into the café. It is at this moment that the French begin their attack.
Soldiers scale the barricade and begin their attack. During the fighting, a soldier aims his gun at Marius but before he can fire Eponine grabs the gun and pulls it towards herself taking the bullet meant for Marius. Before he realizes what has happened, Marius grabs a torch and a barrel of gunpowder and threatens to blow everyone to hell. The soldiers retreat and Marius sees Eponine dying. She gives him the letter as a light rain falls. Marius holds her until she passes and reads the letter. He writes a quick response and sends Gavroche to bring it to Cosette. Valjean intercepts the letter and realizes that he cannot deny Cosette the love Marius has to offer. He does not tell her of the letter and goes quickly to the barricade, stealing a dead soldier’s uniform to slip through their ranks.
When he arrives at the barricade, they think he is a soldier. Valjean proves he is not by picking up a rifle and firing at two snipers who were about to kill Enjolras. Enjolras says that if there is anything he can do for Valjean, he may ask it of him. Seeing Javert in the café, Valjean asks for the right to “take care of Javert.” Valjean takes a knife from a table and Javert accepts his fate…only for Valjean to cut him free and release him. Javert says that his pursuit will not end, and Valjean accepts that. Forcing him to leave by firing a pistol in the air.
Valjean observes Marius as Marius, Enjolras and their compatriots talk about how the people have not been stirred to their cause. As the dawn rises, they realize that they will need more ammunition. Gavroche volunteers and climbs the barricade. As he recovers the ammunition, he taunts the soldiers who shoot around him until he is clipped in the leg. Then another soldier takes a shot and the bullet goes through the boy’s head killing him. As the soldiers launch their final attack, Marius is injured. Valjean springs to action carrying the young man away from the violence and towards an open sewer drain. Enjolras is cornered at the top of the café by soldiers and killed with all the rest. Valjean carries Marius to a dead end but when pursuing soldiers arrive the way is clear no one is there. Javert is not fooled and realizes that Valjean has escaped with Marius into the sewers. As he leaves, he sees the body of Gavroche and places a small metal pin on the boy’s lapel before heading off to where the sewer empties.
Weary, Valjean places Marius down and rests. Unfortunately, the Thénardier gang has set up shop in the sewers and come upon them to rob them. Thénardier steals Marius’ signet ring but Valjean awakens before he is robbed. Valjean throws him against the wall and demands to know the way out. Thénardier points him in the wrong direction and Valjean carries Marius into the path flooded with waste.
Valjean manages to drag him out of the sewer and through the deepest parts until he emerges at the exit where Javert blocks the way. Threatening to kill him if he should think to move, Valjean dares Javert to do it knowing that a man as morally stalwart as Javert will have trouble killing the man who saved his life. Javert allows him to leave, but his ensuing moral crisis demands that he not live in a world where he owes a debt to a convict so he throws himself into the river and drowns himself.
Valjean gets Marius safely to Marius’ grandfather. As he recovers, he walks to the café where people visit to grieve for the dead. He says an apology for not dying with his friends. When he returns to his home, he finds Cosette waiting for him with Valjean. Valjean pulls Marius aside and tells him of his dark past, confessing to be the criminal Jean Valjean. Marius is disturbed but agrees to keep this a secret from Cosette who has only ever known him as her papa. He disappears before the wedding, leaving Cosette to wonder why.
The night of the wedding, the Thénardiers crash the party to extort money from Marius. Thénardier hints that he and Valjean knows of how Marius was rescued, showing the signet ring he now wears on his finger. Marius recognizes the ring as his own confirmation that Valjean was Marius’ savior. Marius demands to know where Valjean has gone going so far as to punch Thénardier in the face. He learns that Valjean has retreated to the convent he met the Bishop. Marius grabs Cosette and the two rush off to find Valjean while the Thénardiers are ejected from the reception.
The two silver candles the Bishop gave to Valjean now hold candles before on of God’s altars. Cosette and Marius arrive to find Valjean on his deathbed. Valjean gives Cosette a letter and has her promise to read it only after he’s gone. As Marius cries out that Valjean is a saint for all he’s done, the ghost of Fantine arrives to join him as he prays. She thanks him for his burden and welcomes him to God. She is joined by the ghost of the old Bishop who helps to guide him to heaven. Leaving Cosette crying, but safely with Marius.
TIME PASSES (Note: Sixteen Years - Novel) another revolution has begun and the people of Paris now march together. As they sing of the dead and the comrades they march for, we see Marius and Cosette…surrounded by the ghosts of those who died a brighter future overseen by those who made it possible. Valjean, Eponine and others smile as the people march for Freedom.
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