Rated: PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 25, 2012 Released by: Universal Studios, Inc.
An intensely told musical version of Victor Hugo's famous 1862 tale of destitution and redemption sweeps the silver screen by way of Tom Hooper who last graced cineastes with The King's Speech which won the big Oscars a couple of years ago. Unlike Bille August's 1998 version starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush, a sprawling turbulence is intimately driven with its devoted roster singing the dialogue live (with an orchestra probably off in the pastoral distance).
Les Miserables is an ambitious technical feat that can prove as jarring as exhilarating in depicting early 19th Century France from a sun-bathed cinemascope to a rather closed-up cloudiness. It almost seems one medium (having been seen since 1980) is trying to make its way onto another. For it to have considerable impact it really does help to be familiar with the source material.
The storyline contributed in part by the musical scribes in Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg has its temporal leaps as a heavy operatic mood is established with enormous emotions empowered in the early going.
Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean has been in prison nearly two score for snatching a loaf of bread and threatening to break parole with wily dogged criminal inspector Javert (Russell Crowe. In an unforgiving 1815, a lenient cleric (Colm Wilkinson) puts Jean onto a more compassionate path when he aids a prostitute in Fantine (a strong newly married Anne Hathaway of The Dark Knight Rises and Rachel Getting Married). The business/politico wisely whisks Fantine's young daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen) from vain innkeeper couple The Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter - both effective in another involving musical starring Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street).
Later, Javert continues to press after Valjean when the latter and a more womanly Cosette (Amanda Seyfried of Mamma Mia) have settled in Paris. There a young revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne) has become smitten with her, while the Thernardiers' daughter (Samantha Barks) has turned her affections towards Marius.
The dramatic conflict is in place with many ballads staged to show-stopping effect with memorable ones from Barks, "On My Own," as well as "What Have I Done?" from a compelling Jackman (also fine as the lively Bunny in the animated Rise of the Guardians). Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" amazingly delivers Fantine's grief-stricken pain, while Redmayne's vocal and acting skills have an unexpected cogency.
Hooper obviously had a handful to make the stylistically diverse shoot a full-on bravura showcase with multitudes on location, crammed sets in the streets and effects to wage a winning cinematic uprising. Even if Crowe isn't as stellar in song crescendo as Jackson they make the Valjean/Javert dynamic realistic and heartfelt. The filmmaking finally makes its points through art, politics and most prominently, song. It may take its emotiveness to a monster-energy drink level at times but the widening gap between the elite and oppressed with its street protests is even relevant in a world trying to deal with its own fiscal cliff. A struggle between cold-hearted and liberal-mindedness is overwhelming but vividly rendered by a well-chosen cast, especially an ever-committed Jackman and Hathaway.
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