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January 7, 2013

“Les Misérables:” A Triumph

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Movie reviews are normally reserved for the qualified. Not this time. Employing what little theatrical skill remains, here's a film review by a completely unqualified analyst.


Victor Hugo's dark tale of poverty, pestilence, faith, love and revolution has finally made its way to the big screen. In the capable hands of Academy Award-winning director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), Les Misérables is the big, bold Hollywood blockbuster its Broadway history suggested it might be.


Clocking in at well over two hours, this is a get-comfortable, use-the-restroom beforehand movie.


The decision to buy three tickets a few days before the Christmas opening proved prescient. All four showings were sold out, with later show tickets being bought by disappointed film-goers after being turned away from the early matinees.


From the opening strains of the prologue, Les Mis delivers on the promise of an emotional roller coaster ride.


The talk from theater people was that no film performance could do credit to the live experience for this musical. There's plenty of history to support that worry. Normally, a cast recording is released, and the celluloid performances are mere lip-syncing.


This time, Tom Hooper fought against type and required all vocal performances to be recorded live, save the first one. So, what you see and hear is what they did, which considering both Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman's up-close and emotionally driven solos, is an incredible and noteworthy fact.


Mr. Jackman is a well known Broadway musical performer. He's a classic song-and-dance man, but his turn as Jean Valjean is a performance for the ages. Were it not for Daniel Day-Lewis' starring role in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, he would lead the list of Best Actor candidates for the Academy Awards.


Anne Hathaway is simply stunning as the beaten-down mother and working girl Fantine. Her performance of I Dreamed a Dream, the signature song of the show, left the entire Westview Stadium theater sobbing and sniffling.


In addition to Mr. Jackman and Ms. Hathaway, a few others deserve mention. In a brilliant if safe casting decision, Samantha Barks was chosen to reprise her Broadway role of Eponine, the child of the gutter who longs for a love that isn't meant to be.


Eddie Redmayne brings the role of revolutionary Marius to life, and the tear that streams down his face as he sings about his fallen comrades brought a realism to the performance that makes it unforgettable.


Well-known film and television star Amanda Seyfried breathes beautiful life into Cosette, Marius' love and a key to the whole story.


The movie is almost stolen by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. They play the low-down and dirty hoteliers, the Thenadiers. Nothing said here can do justice to their performances, you just need to see (and hear).


Another performance of sorts has to be mentioned. The streets of Paris, the Rue Plumet barricade, and the gutters, skyline, sewers and cobblestone streets are as much a part of the experience as any single actor's performance.


Yes, there's a bit of controversy. Russell Crowe was cast in the key role of Police Inspector Javert, who spends his adult life pursuing Jean Valjohn for breaking his parole (for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a hungry child). The Javert character sings two key solos, and both are vocally challenging.


Mr. Crowe is a great actor, and he also happens to front a touring rock band. The distance between rock-and-roll and a Broadway musical is huge, and evident with his solos.


That said, this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Crowe's portrayal of the flawed and obsessed law enforcer. Sure, they could have cast a better singer, and maybe they should have. Regardless, this Javert made you feel his ultimate failure in a very tangible scene. You'll feel his confusion, and you'll see his impending collapse.


In this age of computer-generated images and film magic, what a pleasure to sit back and watch human beings pour their very souls into the characters they portray. What a joy to listen to them open their mouths and pour forth songs that stir the audience to their own souls.


If you miss seeing this film on a large screen, you'll regret it. While it would be great to see it even on a small computer screen, looking over Javert's shoulder at the Paris skyline, with the Cathedral of Notre Dame right behind, chimney smoke from hundreds of fireplaces curling into the darkening, purple, star-filled night, this is how movies were meant to be made and seen.


Go now; see it on the big screen. You deserve it!


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