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Monday, December 17, 2012

Les Misérables Movie Review

Based on the original 1980 stage musical of the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, the monumental "Les Misérables" fittingly finds itself on the big screen (again), directed by Tom Hooper.

The story, as is familiar to fans of the musical, revolves around convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who escapes and assumes a new identity, but is continuously hunted for years by his former jailer Javert (Russell Crowe). Along the way he raises Cosette (Isabelle Allen and Amanda Seyfried, as the respective child and grown woman versions of Cosette), daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway).
More melodrama is provided in the romance between Cosette and bourgeois-cum-revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne), and in Eponine's (Samantha Barks) unrequited love for him. All of this is played out against the backdrop of French early 19th century social upheaval, culminating in the June 1832 Paris uprising.

That's a lot to sing about, and presumably moviegoers will know what they're getting into. This "Les Misérables" of the screen has as much singing as it did on the stage, with hardly any unsung dialogue. (Of note: the actors sing live on set, though for the most part the songs do not have a live quality). Hugh Jackman's vocal skills are no mystery, and they do service to songs that demand a wide range. Crowe does not have Jackman's range but does have a steady, though sometimes unexpressive, baritone that's suited to his regimented character. Hathaway makes quite an impression and her later absence is felt until a surprisingly good Seyfried and accomplished Barks perform their own tunes.

Welcome comic relief is provided by the Thenardier's (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), thieving grifters who look like they just walked off the set they shared on "Sweeney Todd". Many of the rare and humorous unsung lines are delivered by these two, particularly his constant mispronouncing and her correction of Cosette's name.

The story of "Les Misérables" is a naturally cinematic one, but the abundance of close-ups, particularly during each set-piece song, can make many scenes seem oddly claustrophobic. Even the final barricades scene felt more expansive somehow when on the stage. Though overall, the movie is a loyal treatment of the popular musical that should please old fans and newcomers alike. Can you hear the people sing?

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