Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Rated: PG-13

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Banks
Director: Tom Hooper
Genre: Musical/Drama

The 2012 screen adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel of 19th century France, Les Miserables,  hits your eye like a big pizza pie! And like the pizza, it's huge, and messy, and satisfyingly delicious. Add to that the surprise of seeing that some unlikely bedfellows, e.g., Russell Crowe and Sacha Baron Cohen, can actually sing (passably). Though I wouldn't quit my day job to join the opera just yet, Sacha, as you're much too naughty, and those large-lunged divas would punch your lights out. .

Hugh Jackman heads up a stellar ensemble cast as Jean Valjean, a man who served 19 years at hard labor for a petty theft. As a free man, he breaks his parole and goes undercover, becoming  a respected citizen. Russell Crowe, as Inspector Javert, is the long arm of the law who pursues Valjean relentlessly, and is one of the tragic figures in the story. Anne Hathaway is Fantine, a young woman who resorts to prostitution to survive. She becomes pregnant with Cossette,  played here as a young woman by Amanda Seyfried. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter--who have a lot in common because they both have long names--are the innkeepers Thenardier and Madame Thenardier, who become the young Cossette's foster "parents." They add some levity to the mostly serious proceedings with the bawdy antics occurring inside their establishment. (Valjean later bribes them to to let him take the child.)  As time skips ahead,  Marius, a student who joins the impending revolution, (Eddie Redmayne) and the blossoming Cossette fall for one another. Eponine, (Samantha Banks) the Thenardier's daughter, is also smitten with Marius, but her love is unrequited.  

The stage musical of Les Miserables has been around in one incarnation or another since 1980. Now its true potential is reached, lending itself to the giant screen so effectively because the street battle scenes can be played out to scale, with stark and bloody realism--and while you normally would't expect to have people singing while they're shooting each other, that's the musical for you, and you'll soon get in the swing of it. 

Anne Hathaway is likely to get a nomination, mainly for her visceral  rendering of "I Dreamed A Dream."  But for my money, it's gotta be Jackman's achingly beautiful "Bring Him Home."  Other songs feature multi-layered harmonies that build to a soaring crescendo that is guaranteed to raise the hair on your back (unless you've gotten it waxed recently). And of no lesser genius is the deft jump cut editing here.  

Two minor annoyances. Many of those who have solos are shot in that kind of ubber closeup that was popularized by the spaghetti westerns of the sixties and seventies. Literally "in-your-face." It isn't necessary (or aesthetically pleasing) to see the size of every pore on someone's face, or whether or not they brushed their tongue beforehand. (You should always brush your tongue when you get up in the morning, because a layer of sulfur forms on it overnight, which can contribute to your friends giving you a wide berth when they are around you.)  The other thing is that the movie runs two and a half hours and then some, so it feels a tad long. These things I will  forgive in light of a preponderance of the evidence that Les Miserables  is a work of considerable genius.

That and the fact that I always like a good revolution.   

Grade:  A