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Wed Dec 26, 2012, 10:54 AM

Movie Review: ‘Les Misérables’

The intense and thrilling experience that was the legendary, sung-through, ’80s stage show set in squalid revolutionary France, Les Misérables was an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 1862 political novel and, in any form, is a testament to the human spirit.

And if the movie doesn’t quite replicate the parade of privileged moments of the stage play, it still resonates with intense emotionality and extravagant romanticism.

Hugh Jackman stars as prisoner-turned-politician Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who, after spending nearly two decades in prison for stealing a loaf of bread, breaks parole and runs off to start a new life, becomes a factory owner and then the mayor of a small town.

Russell Crowe plays Javert, Valjean’s former prison guard, now a ruthless inspector, obsessively pursuing Valjean for decades.

And Anne Hathaway is destitute factory worker Fantine, a single mother turned prostitute whose young daughter Valjean promises to look after.

Their fates will intermingle during the 1862 uprising as French revolutionaries man the barricades.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne offer youthful romantic support, while Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen contribute comic relief as greedy and disreputable innkeepers.

Director Tom Hooper, coming off his 2010 Oscar for best director (for The King’s Speech), demonstrates with this epic production that that was no fluke.

Instead of the usual way of filming musical numbers, which is having the performers lip-synch to prerecorded tracks, Hooper had his performers sing live during filming.

This proves to be a tremendous advantage in some cases. Jackman, anchoring the film and changing considerably as his narrative arc unveils, is terrific throughout as singer and actor.

And Hathaway’s delivery of “I Dreamed a Dream” is one of the most impactful in movie history: in one long, dramatic closeup, she sings her heart out while breaking ours.

But in other cases -– for example, with Crowe, who is not suited to this style of singing -– the unique approach reveals troublesome shortcomings, in singing if not in acting.

The screenplay by William Nicholson, based on the musical play by Alain Boublil, with memorable music by Claude Michel-Schoenberg and remarkably timeless lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, makes room for eighteen musical numbers –- including “One Day More,” “Bring Him Home,” and “On My Own.”

Not all soar, but all register.

Following dozens of screen adaptations of Les Misérables as far back as the silent era, this is the first musical version.

Offering virtually no spoken dialogue, it isn’t perfect. But the class warfare on display, the portrait of the downtrodden, the focus on inequality and injustice, makes the film seem a lot less like a period piece than you might think.

As the sad songs mount up, you might even find yourself thinking of it as “Occupy Wail Street.”

So we’ll barricade 3½ stars out of 4 for a stirring musical drama with many moments of magnificence. Unless you’re allergic to screen musicals, don’t Miz it.

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Reply Movie Review: ‘Les Misérables’ (Original post)
kima.rose Dec 2012 OP
CBHagman Dec 2012 #1
Staph Dec 2012 #2
Manoverde84 Dec 2012 #3
Staph Dec 2012 #4
CBHagman Dec 2012 #5
tavernier Dec 2012 #6
graham4anything Dec 2012 #7

Response to kima.rose (Original post)

Wed Dec 26, 2012, 08:26 PM

1. I wondered about the singing!

As I'm firmly in the casting camp of getting a singer who acts, not an actor who tries to sing or must be dubbed, I was intrigued by your comments. Hugh Jackman has of course gotten raves for his stage work, so I hoped he'd be a good fit for Jean Valjean, though I had to wonder about range.

In any event, you've gotten me more interested in seeing this version. I've seen stunt casting before with Les Miserables, on at least one occasion to disastrous effect, but this time it might be worth the gamble.

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Response to CBHagman (Reply #1)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 01:20 AM

2. I just saw the film this afternoon.

I've seen the stage production at least four times, in London, New York, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and a student production here in West Virginia. It is hands down my favorite stage musical of all time.

The film, in my opinion, was well done. Hooper did a great job of opening up the play, using a variety of locations that expanded the story. From the opening scene, with hundreds of prisoners hauling a damaged ship into dry dock, to the funeral of General Lamarque on the streets of Paris, and in so many more scenes, you feel that you are in France of the early 18th century.

And the voices! The glorious music from actual trained singers! My biggest disappointment is with Russell Crowe as Javert. He has a pleasant voice, but he has the tone of a rock singer, not the chops of a serious musical performer. I would have killed for Roger Allam or Terence Mann in the role, though both are a bit old for the part when compared to Hugh Jackman. And Crowe's Javert was more "gray" than I expected. My view of Javert is that he is very black and white, that he is on the right side of the law and Valjean is on the wrong side. Then when Valjean spares his life during the student uprising, Javert realizes that Valjean has been the righteous man all along. Your mileage, of course, may vary!

If you are a fan of musical theatre in general or Les Miserables in particular, get thee to a theatre immediately!

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Response to kima.rose (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:53 PM

3. just how much music is involved?

i don't like it when there is too much singing.

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Response to Manoverde84 (Reply #3)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 04:13 AM

4. It is virtually all singing.

There are perhaps no more than 50 spoken words in the entire 160 minutes. But take a chance. The songs carry the story. The songs are the dialogue.

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Response to Manoverde84 (Reply #3)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 04:15 PM

5. Define "too much."

As mentioned, the entire story is told in song, and quite emotionally (I say that as someone who has seen two stage productions and the televised anniversary concerts).

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Response to kima.rose (Original post)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 11:25 PM

6. I was so hoping to like it...

I'm a devoted fan of musicals and theater in general.

I just did not. Hugh was great, but even he started to get hammy in the last few scenes. Russell Crowe? Goes to show that just because one is in a boy band, doesn't mean one can sing. Helena and Sacha sort of belonged in an entirely different movie. I think they stumbled in off the set of Sweeney Todd. Oh, I could go on, but it would sound churlish, so that's enough.

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Response to kima.rose (Original post)

Sat Dec 29, 2012, 08:29 PM

7. I thought Russell Crowe stole the movie. He is the new Richard Harris


I picture Crowe playing Richard Harris in a bio. Same voice, same style.

As for Jackman, while I can't think of who would have done better, he is not a movie star.
He is great on Broadway(especially as Peter Allen).
But I don't think he has the ability to do leading man close ups that were needed

Saw Eddie Redmayne on Broadway a year or so ago,he is fantastic.

Samantha Barks played the role in the UK and her talent shows. She has a great future.
Anne Hathaway was surprisingly good.

As for Cohen and Carter, it did remind me of Sweeney Todd.

But then musicals from the 80s,90s to today don't rank with the alltime greats like ShowBoat
but its worth seeing.

As for comparissons with politics-this reminded me of the revolution we won peacefully in 2008. Not anything else.

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