Monday, December 24, 2012

Les Miserables: C'est magnifique!

Movie Review: Les Miserables

Director: Tom Hooper

Reviewed: 21 December 2012

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

Wow.  Tom Hooper's sensational film version of the beloved musical "Les Miserables" comes close to cinematic greatness, offering a thrilling story with few frills.  Hooper relies upon his strong cast to shoulder the weight of the story instead of using cinematic pyrotechnics or CGI.  He trains his camera confidently on his actors, and it is enough.  "Les Miserables" is one of the best films of the year and an event of the season.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) served nineteen years in a French prison for stealing a loaf of bread and breaks parole leading to his pursuit by the indefatigable Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).  In a new life, Valjean's carelessness leads to the destruction of the young Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a factory worker scrimping to send money to her beloved daughter Cosette.  Young Cosette lives with the reprehensible Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) before a decision by Valjean changes her life.  Time passes, and the plot centers upon a burgeoning insurrection in Paris involving young Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and the daughter of the Thenardiers, Eponine (Samantha Barks).  With love and revolution in the air, Valjean must evade his past and protect Cosette (Amanda Seyfried).

Hooper's direction focuses on the faces of the lead characters, and he delivers long, uninterrupted takes of the singing which I feel is to his credit.  He does not chop or edit this film into fragments.  Having only seen the musical once (this past fall in Houston), I sat in the back of the theater, enjoying the scale of the cast and songs, but I never got the sense of the faces of the actors that would come from sitting in a front row seat.  And, who can afford that?  Well, for the price of admission to this film, Hooper puts his stars out in front, scaling down the film from gigantic sets and props.  He makes "Les Miserables" a film of faces and emotions, rendered beautifully by Jackman, Hathaway, and Barks particularly.  With this film and his previous "The King's Speech," Hooper has emerged as an actor's director, putting the best in front of his camera and letting them act.  That film earned Colin Firth a Best Actor Oscar and Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush supporting acting nominations.  His strengths are at play here with actors ready for the challenge.

"Les Miserables" examines the reclamation of one man's soul, the role of faith in a person's life.  A kindness delivered upon Valjean early in the film manifests itself in two major decisions that he makes later.  Without being clumsy, "Les Miserables" offers up its treatise on the importance of liberty, equality, and brotherhood unabashedly within the framing of faith.  I feel that it is Hugh Jackman's best work ever as he proves himself fully capable, both strong and vulnerable, as Valjean.  Anne Hathaway's brief work as Fantine is memorable, and her signature song "I Dreamed a Dream" stops the film in its tracks with its impressive holding of her face as she delivers a wounded, defiant vocal.  Both Jackman and Hathaway are deserving of nominations for acting.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter delight as the Innkeeper and his wife, and "Master of the House" delivers comedic gold.  Both do really brilliant work here, adding levity and humor to a dark story, as well as a flurry of comic sequences to disrupt the staid pace of the film.  I do wish there were an Oscar for Best Comedic Duo; I would hand it to them.

"Les Miserables" feels a bit long, and I felt at times that I admired it more than loved it.  From a technical standpoint, the film feels, looks, and sounds terrific.  I found myself less enthusiastic about Russell Crowe's performance as Javert, but nearly everyone else delivers.  A film deserving of great praise and no doubt thick crowds this holiday season, "Les Miserables" will receive a slate of Oscar nominations and probably a Best Supporting Actress statue for Anne Hathaway who this year handled two iconic roles (Catwoman and Fantine) with dexterity.  "Les Miserables" is an admirable, technically brilliant film and a fantastic trip to the movies.

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