Les Miserables

Tom Hooper (Oscar winner for The King's Speech) has lovingly adapted the musical theater phenomenon Les Miserables (which debuted on the stage in 1980) to the silver screen, using the medium of film to open up the streets of 19th century Paris and the 1832 uprising that is at the center of the movie's narrative while offering greater intimacy to the individual miseries of the story's principals. Hugh Jackman (a movie star who is also a richly talented theatrical performer) lends impressive gravitas to the thankless role of Jean Valjean, the fugitive bread thief who spends the film (and Victor Hugo's novel) bearing his soul and eluding Inspector Javert (an oddly inert Russell Crowe). Over the course of roughly two decades, Valjean, who hides his identity to avoid capture, goes from bitter malcontent to noble saint.  Along the way he adopts an orphaned waif, Cosette (played as a young woman by Amanda Seyfried). Cosette's mother, Fantine, (a riveting Anne Hathaway) was run out of Valjean's garment factory by a lusty overseer, reduced to turning tricks on the docks and dies 30 minutes into the film. Yes, there's a lot going on here, which forces the film (like the stage version) to rely on familiar tropes and a few cliches to keep things moving. But the film's ultimate appeal lies not in the elegance of its plot lines but in the beauty of its score. Claude-Michel Schonberg (music) and Herbert Kretzmer (English adaptor of the French lyrics by Alain Boubill and Jean-Marc Natel) composed a half-dozen semi-operatic musical motifs that tie the action and the characters together. The songs seemingly were crafted to be overplayed (in the style of grand opera) and none of the principal actors holds anything back. Even the featured players like Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen (comic relief as the extortionist innkeepers, the Thenardiers) are given ample room to strut and preen. As others have noted, the standout in the film is  young Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn) as the love-struck revolutionary Marius. He sings with a heartthrob's tenor and his character is featured on several of the film's loveliest songs. His trio A Heart Full of Love with Seyfried and newcomer Samantha Barks as Eponine is a high-point of Act One and his solo performance of Empty Chairs and Empty Tables will leave no one unmoved. On that note, the film is an unapologetic tearjerker but highly recommended nonetheless.


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