Friday, December 28, 2012


Eyes ablaze with pain and torment, Anne Hathaway delivers the moment of the year as the fallen ill mother-turned-prostitute Fantine in her solo musical number "I Dreamed a Dream." Her eyes puffy and red with tears streaming down her face, the camera doesn't shy away from a tight close-up during her entire song not backing away from the agony and sorrow she puts on display.

It's not just her song, though, as all of Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables" is full of musical numbers equal in emotional potency to match Hathaway's Oscar-demanding powerhouse. Samantha Barks is devastating as Eponine, the sad, lonesome girl raised on the streets with her "Own My Own." Fantine's blond princess of a daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), croons like a songbird to her lover, Marius (Eddie Redmayne), and adoptive father Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who's gone through life running from his criminal past. There's no better show tune front man than Jackman because in such a commanding role, he nails it. He is the forward momentum holding the narrative strings of "Les Miserables" together. Every soaring note or growl of anger from him is alive with vivacity.

Russell Crowe plays the man in pursuit, Javert, who grows tiresome chasing Valjean but never falters. His "Stars" is Crowe's best display of his unconventional vocal performance, much like Amanda Seyfried's fluttering vibrato as Cosette. And one mustn't forget Eddie Redmayne's Marius who absolutely earns his star-making role with his heartbreaking "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" as he laments for his fallen comrades. Oscar should take note. And rousing all these distinct voices together in a glorious finish to the film's first act is "One Day More," a symphony of vocal collaboration over the orchestra.

Playing in humor and mischief is the ideally cast Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter with their rendition of "Master of the House." Plastered in make-up and funny costumes, they look like they just walked over from the set of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," which, by the way, "Les Miserables" is the triumphant musical Hollywood has been waiting for since then.

The film is, of course, based off the 1980s musical smash hit which is based off Victor Hugo's massive 1862 novel about Paris students staging a government uprising in 1832. It's a lot of narrative, and not a very clean one at that. Too many main players, a lot of convolution. So, it's the music that must shine, and shine it does with Tom Hooper's impeccable direction. At just over 2-and-a-half hours, the movie actually moves along quite briskly cramming in an abundance of plot. The bold decision to have his actors sing live on set is also a testament to Hooper's direction with a bold decision that well pays off. In such a style, you witness as emotion overcomes the actors' faces and voices in every musical number. It's sacrificing a perfect sound for something more raw.

Interspersing between close up shots of powerful singing are shots we've come to know from Hooper and "The King's Speech" cinematographer Danny Cohen. Full of high canted angles and large backdrops against tiny figures, it's those tall shots or close-ups, nothing in between. It gives "Les Miserables" a theatricality of both intimacy and grandeur, the perfect combination for treating such a musical. The adaptation isn't perfect (how could it be?), but it's full of astounding performances with actors pouring out their souls in song. Do you hear the people sing? You should.

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