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‘Les Misérables’ Review: Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe & Anne Hathaway

The most beloved musical of all time becomes a cinematic phenomenon in Tom Hooper’s direction of “Les Misérables.” As someone who has seen several theatrical versions (even the most recent one here in DC at the National Theatre) and who adores the Dream Cast Concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, this film was easily my most anticipated of 2012.

Luckily, I can say that my anticipation was fulfilled in the most fantastic way when I left the theatre after the first time I saw this film. I’ve since seen it three more times.

Hooper decided to have the cast sing live on set, rather than in the confines of a recording studio to give the story and music a more emotional and genuine core. It worked.

Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” is set in 19th Century France and revolves around a man, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Valjean stole a loaf of bread in attempt to save his sister’s child, but was caught by the police. After multiple attempts of trying to escape his prison, his sentence was increased from 5 to 19 years. The film picks up as Valjean is being released from prison, eager to start his life as a free man. Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) hands Valjean his papers, marking him as a dangerous man and if he violates his parole, he’ll be heading right back to prison.

Valjean struggles with his new life and it’s not until a bishop has saved him, that he realizes he needs to become a changed man. Years pass and we see Valjean has taken on a new identity: Monsieur Madeleine, the mayor and factory owner of a town in France. Valjean and Javert’s paths cross again when Javert comes to town as the new Inspector.

Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is a factory worker in Valjean’s town and when it’s discovered she has an illegitimate child, she is thrown out on the street. Cold and sick, Fantine sells herself on the streets to make money in order for child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen) to survive.

Valjean finds Fantine and in order to atone to his behavior of her from earlier, he swears that Cosette will live in his protection and he will provide for her. Valjean saves Cosette from the money-pinching Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) and the two go off and start a life anew.

Meanwhile, Javert becomes obsessed with hunting down Valjean, after he violated his parole years before. His search for him lasts for a decade, bringing the story to the midst of the Paris Uprising.

It’s in this part of the story that we see Valjean and a grown-up Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) living a fulfilled life, but still in secret as to not bring notice to Javert. Éponine (Samantha Barks), the Thénardiers’ daughter is also grown up and in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young revolutionary. While preparing for the revolution, Marius stumbles across Cosette in the streets and falls for her “Romeo” style.

It’s not the love triangle that keeps this second act afloat, but director Tom Hooper’s visionary tale of the battle and barricade. The art direction and set design are everything they should be on a film stage.

Performances are great across the board here. First, let’s talk about Hugh Jackman. Out of all the film actors and singers in the entire world, Jackman was made to play Valjean. The Tony-award winner is the perfect choice for our hero and his performance is the best of the year from any actor. Near the beginning of the film he is hardly recognizable, as the actor lost weight and grew a long beard for the “prisoner Valjean.” He adds an emotional core to the character than many actors only dream of achieving. Jackman has such an amazing on-screen presence and completely takes the audience over with his beautiful renditions of Claude-Michel Schönberg’s songs.

Russell Crowe as the villainous Javert is incredible. Though he doesn’t have the singing talents that Jackman has, his presence is just as commanding. Besides who doesn’t want to see Wolverine and Gladiator have a showdown? Crowe has the physicality that Javert should certainly have and he adds something to the infamous inspector that is hardly seen in stage shows. In many of the stage shows, Javert is presented as the most horrible person you can think of, but Crowe’s Javert has somewhat of a heart behind him. As a huge “Les Mis” fan, it was interesting to watch.

And the winner for Best Supporting Actress goes to… Anne Hathaway. If Hathaway doesn’t win the Oscar, it’s a true travesty. In three and a half minutes, Hathaway gives the best performance in film all year. Really. Her performance is so raw, gritty and utterly phenomenal. I’ve heard multiple versions of Fantine’s “I Dreamed A Dream,” but I feel I never knew the full meaning of that song until I heard Hathaway’s version. It’s just heartbreakingly beautiful.

Eddie Redmayne. The “My Week with Marilyn” star and Burberry model has the charm, spunk and handsome looks that Marius would have, but the young actor does what is so hard for a stage actor to do: he gives Marius some balls. Marius is so often depicted as a sad lovesick puppy and how could he not with singing songs called “A Heart Full of Love” and “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” But Redmayne’s Marius is a true revolutionary. I was thrilled with Hooper’s decision to show Marius fighting and yelling at the battle at the barricade, I’m like “Yes Marius, I knew you had it in you!” It was refreshing to see one of my favorite characters in “Les Mis” brought to life by Redmayne.

Amanda Seyfried, who isn’t shy to singing (she played Sophie in 2008’s “Mamma Mia!”), gives it her all as the grown-up Cosette. Her soprano voice is perfect for the caring woman who falls in love with Marius. I only wish Cosette had a solo as Marius and Eponine do in Act II.

Samantha Barks has played Éponine (my favorite character) in the London concert version of “Les Mis” and Tom Hooper’s film marks her first feature film debut. She could’ve fooled me, as she knew exactly what she was doing in front of that camera. She knew exactly when to belt those notes and when to sing softly on-screen, which is difficult to learn for most stage actors. Barks may even have the most vocal range out of anyone in the cast. Her solo “On My Own” is tearful, moving and passionate.

Aaron Tveit, the hottie revolutionary…I mean Enjolras, is just unbelievable. For an actor who I’ve only seen before in “Gossip Girl,” gives a fantastic performance as the lead revolutionary. I found myself wanting the battle scenes to come up quicker just so I could hear his voice again. Can we see this young talent in more films please??

As soon as you’re done with Christmas dinner, go immediately to the theatre and see “Les Misérables.” Everything from the performances, genuine sets and Hooper’s artistic vision of 19th Century France is near perfection. It’s truly one of the best cinematic events of the year.

Kevin McCarthy of sat down with the cast of “Les Misérables” and even sang with Hugh Jackman. Here are the interviews:

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