Les Misérables (2012)

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Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, William Nicholson, and Claude-Michel Schönberg

Rated PG-13

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean
Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert
Anne Hathaway as Fantine
Amanda Seyfried as Cosette
Eddie Redmayne as Marius Pontmercy
Aaron Tveit as Enjolras
Samantha Barks as Eponine
Isabelle Allen as Young Cosette
Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche
Colm Wilkinson as Bishop Myriel
Helen Bonham Carter as Madame Thenardier
Sacha Baron Cohen as Thenardier

Adapting the musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, in turn based on Victor Hugo’s epic 1862 novel, was no small undertaking. Les Misérables is a triumphant success, though not an imperfect one. Still, it deserved all of its accolades, and it was one of 2012’s best films.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is paroled after 19 years of imprisonment for stealing bread to feed his sister’s starving children. Valjean is tortured by his years of incarceration, and he vows to redeem himself and begin a new life. To do so, he must break parole, launching a years-long pursuit by the relentless Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).

Valjean becomes mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer, and even though it’s eight years after his escape, Javert is still on his trail. Valjean also owns a factory, where worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is dismissed when it is discovered she has an illegitimate daughter. Fantine tries to capture the attention of Valjean, but he is distracted by misleading Javert.

Fantine’s story is brief but profound. She is humiliated, forced to sell her hair and teeth; eventually she must become a prostitute. This leads to the showstopping “I Dreamed a Dream,” which Hathaway delivers in a breathtaking, heart-wrenching performance. She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and it was much-deserved.

The plot continues, with Valjean eluding Javert, as he becomes the father figure to Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (played by Amanda Seyfried as a young woman). Paris is beset by devastating poverty, and the French Revolution is in its early stages.

Marius (a winning Eddie Redmayne), a young Revolutionary, catches a glimpse of Cosette and instantly falls in love. It’s a sweet love story, if a bit underdeveloped. Redmayne has charisma and talent, and his Marius is one of the film’s most memorable characters.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are the comic relief as the Thenardiers, Cosette’s original guardians. Carter and Cohen have proven success in this genre: they both had key roles in Tim Burton’s outstanding 2007 adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The Thenardiers’ daughter, Eponine, (Samantha Barks) is also in love with Marius, so there is the requisite love triangle.

The film is a bit long, but its epic pedigree and source material justifies the length. Director Tom Hooper, fresh from his Best Director Oscar for 2010’s The King’s Speech, has a superb handle on the material, with virtuoso art direction and cinematography contributing to a sumptuous cinematic experience.

Much has been said about Crowe’s vocal abilities as Javert. I thought his performance was effective, with the vocal inflections true to the melancholy, deliberate nature of his character. Jackman is, as expected, a revelation as Valjean, delivering one of the year’s best performances. Hathaway’s role as Fantine is small but pivotal, and she is unforgettable.

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