Les Misérables reaches the screen in an extravagant visualization | Film Review | Indy Week
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Les Misérables reaches the screen in an extravagant visualization 

They look miserable: "Les Misérables" moves from stage to screen.

Photo by Kerry Brown

They look miserable: "Les Misérables" moves from stage to screen.

The wildly popular musical Les Misérables, first produced in English in 1985, reaches the screen in an extravagant visualization directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech). Like Joe Wright's Anna Karenina it seeks to reinvent the intimate epic, while taking an opposite tack. Where Wright took a realistic plot—an adulterous affair—and superimposed a grand artificiality, Hooper takes a complex, multigenerational saga of crime, passion and revenge and uses a documentarian's camera to bring the audience straight into the heart of the fugitive Jean Valjean.

Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has spent almost two decades in jail for stealing a loaf of bread. Finally released, he breaks parole to begin a new life, yet he is dogged by the implacable Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). He meets a pitiful prostitute, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), and promises her on her deathbed to raise her daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), who is destined to fall in love with revolutionary Marius (Eddie Redmayne).

Les Miz is operatic, using sung dialogue, rather than the songs and speech of a typical Broadway-style musical. This may distance the unaccustomed viewer, but Hooper also reaches back to the earliest days of talking pictures to record all the singing live. These long takes and piercingly emotional moments (Hathaway's heartbreaking "I Dreamed a Dream" will certainly net her an Oscar nomination) are extremely effective in making the characters' dilemmas immediate and wrenching.

Jackman, too, benefits from this technique, Crowe, less so. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen bring welcome comic energy to the light-fingered innkeepers; their appearance keeps the 157-minute film from becoming too lugubrious, with one tearful solo following another. The title means "the miserable ones," after all. The production design is sumptuous, and the early-19th-century Paris, executed via CGI, evocative.

If you are one of the many fans of the popular Les Miz, you will find the cinematic version exciting and rewarding. Not a fan? You may remain unconvinced.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Research and/or rhetoric."

Film Details

Les Miserables
Rated PG-13 · 157 min. · 2012
Official Site: www.lesmiserablesfilm.com
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: William Nicholson and Herbert Kretzmer
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit and Colm Wilkinson
Les Miserables 3D
Rated PG-13 · 2012
Official Site: www.lesmiserablesfilm.com
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: William Nicholson and Herbert Kretzmer
Producer: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit and Colm Wilkinson

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