‘Les Mis’ stunning musical spectacle

“Les Misérables” starts with a grand panning shot landing on Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean, a struggling prisoner and slave to the powers that be. This initial shot establishes the scale of this musical adaptation based on Victor Hugo’s book of the same name. Moments into the film audiences will be alerted to the fact that this epic tale is a musical, but the music tells the story in a way that does not talk down to its audience, but forces them to pay attention.

On my first viewing of this film I was not taken in by it, but on a second viewing I found it to be a stunning spectacle of musical inventiveness. Additionally, the cinematography is gorgeous, especially in the early shots as Valjean makes his journey through the mountains.

Jackman deserves credit for bringing a difficult character to screen with so much inner and outer turmoil. Everything about his character is tediously designed to present the broken and wretched man he was. His transition from prisoner to French nobleman is just as astonishing. The dirt and grime is wiped clean of Valjean and a clear face with a cunning grin remains. Jackman secures his nomination for best actor with his melodic voice and the perfect amount of intensity and pain. Jackman easily steals the show if not for one beautiful tragic figure, Fantine.

Anne Hathaway’s Fantine is completely deserving of the consistent recognition she received during awards season. Jackman’s transformation is fascinating to behold, but watching Hathaway sing the memorable tune, “I Dreamed a Dream,” after getting a vicious haircut with messy shears is something to behold. Hathaway has proven herself as the outstanding performer of the year by taking on an iconic comic character, Catwoman, in “The Dark Knight Rises” and then pushing herself to an ultimate tragic breaking point as Fantine. Hathaway’s simple work woman beauty is broken and torn apart later as she is prostituted for grimy men’s hands. Hathaway demands an audience’s attention for the short time she is on screen and easily will receive it.

Many other actors are exceptional in the film, but the actor many point as the low point is Russell Crowe as Javert. I certainly can appreciate the negative feedback Crowe has been given in the role, but I argue that his poor singing further establishes him as the film’s antagonist. If this was a purposeful move on the director Tom Hooper’s part then it works masterfully, because the audience will automatically feel animosity toward Javert with the slightly tone-deaf renditions of his songs.

The film succeeds on many fronts, but fails to garner sympathy or interest for the young love present between Cosette and Marius. I found myself waiting for moments when Javert and Valjean would meet each other again. These scenes were suspenseful and entertaining as the actors dueled with musical words.

“Les Misérables” is certainly a movie not everyone will enjoy, but Hugo’s story is every bit as breathtaking as the music present in the film so respect is deserved. Hooper uses great crane shots and pans to create a world that seems grand in the beginning, but features tortured individuals who are antlike in comparison to their setting.

Patrick White

Movie fan Patrick White doesn't spare anyone's feelings when deciding if the latest Hollywood offering is trash or treasure. Catch his reviews on the latest theater and DVD releases in Saturday's paper.

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