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Movie Review: 'Les Miserables' -- 4 stars
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne
Opens Dec. 25
The buzz you've been hearing is true. Tom Hooper's ("The King's Speech") ambitious film adaptation of the Broadway musical "Les Misérables," based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel depicting economic oppression and failed revolution in 19th century France, is a masterpiece that manages to be visually expansive yet very intimate.
"Les Mis" was the finest of the 1980s mega-musicals that originated in London and went on to rake in big bucks on Broadway and all over the world. Unlike other recent movie musicals, which have tentatively approached the act of breaking into song, the film version of "Les Mis" embraces the piece's origins as a sweeping, sung-through, sentimental musical.
Virtually the entire score has been preserved. Better yet, it is sung with the raw qualities of a live stage performance. Emotional solos like "I Dreamed a Dream" and "On My Own" are presented in single-camera shots with no cross-cutting. In spite of a lame new song that serves no purpose, the film occasionally improves upon the stage musical, changing the placement of "I Dreamed a Dream" to make it more emotional, conveying Jean Valjean's extraordinary strength at his prime and showing how the young rebels were brutally outnumbered on the barricade. This film could not have happened without Hugh Jackman, as no other major film star could have possibly sung the role of Valjean, the convict who found God after 19 years in jail and then spent the rest of his days running from the law. He gives his strongest screen performance to date, comfortably combining his physical and vocal prowess.
Anne Hathaway, looking absolutely emaciated as the doomed Fantine - who is reduced to selling her body after losing her factory job - also proves to be convincing and powerfully moving.
Although vocally strained, Russell Crowe gives a characteristically firm turn as Inspector Javert that captures the character's unrelenting resolve to find Valjean. The rest of the cast of characters is filled out quite nicely, including but not limited to Amanda Seyfried's virginal Cossette, Eddie Redmayne's dreamy-eyed Marius, Aaron Tveit's defiant Enjolras, Sacha Baron Cohen's hammy Thénardier and Helena Bonham Carter's similarly colorful Madame Thénardier. Fans of the stage version will be pleased to find Colm Wilkinson, the original Valjean, turn up in a vital cameo.