No cheap seats at ‘Les Miz’

Jack­man is great and Hath­away a rev­e­la­tion in mu­si­cal

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - By Charles Ealy cealy@states­man.com

The movie adap­ta­tion of “Les Misérables,” one of the most pop­u­lar mu­si­cals of all time, will prob­a­bly do well at the box of­fice, re­gard­less of what crit­ics say. But the happy news is that di­rec­tor Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) has man­aged to move the ac­tion to the big screen with­out much of a hitch. And even bet­ter news: Hugh Jack­man makes a great Jean Val­jean; Anne Hath­away cap­tures the vul­ner­a­ble pathos of Fan­tine; Rus­sell Crowe holds his own as the ob­ses­sive Javert; and He­lena Bon­ham Carter and Sacha Baron Co­hen bring de­li­cious dev­il­try as the crooked Thé­nardiers.

As with the orig­i­nal stage mu­si­cal, the movie ver­sion es­chews the sub­tleties of Vic­tor Hugo’s mas­ter­piece for big mo­ments of rev­e­la­tion and re­demp­tion. But that’s the na­ture of mu­si­cals, both on stage and on screen.

And if you like big set pieces, then Hooper’s ver­sion will be more than sat­is­fy­ing. The open­ing scene, which fo­cuses on an al­most un­rec­og­niz­able Jack­man as Val­jean, be­gins with an over­head shot that makes the pris­on­ers look like ants.

But the cam­er­a­work, which un­mis­tak­ably mim­ics the no­tion of God look­ing down

upon the wretched of the Earth, even­tu­ally fo­cuses on the pained, defiant face of Val­jean, who has been im­pris­oned for steal­ing a loaf of bread. Over­see­ing it all is the would-be worldly usurper of God, Javert (Crowe).

Nearly ev­ery “Les Misérables” fan on the In­ter­net has been ask­ing whether Crowe man­ages to cre­ate a be­liev­able Javert. And at first, it is a bit star­tling to see the eas­ily rec­og­niz­able Crowe belt­ing out songs that threaten to make Val­jean’s life mis­er­able. But Crowe has of­ten had a brusque men­ace to his de­meanor, and that only en­hances his in­ter­pre­ta­tion of vin­dic­tive Javert.

As Fan­tine, the former fac­tory worker forced into pros­ti­tu­tion, Hath­away is the big rev­e­la­tion. She brings so much emo­tion to her role that it’s hard to keep a dry eye. The ini­tial scene of her be­ing forced to have sex has much more emo­tional im­pact than you might ex­pect. And part of that has to do with Hooper’s ma­nip­u­la­tion of the cam­era to high­light Fan­tine’s an­guish.

Some crit­ics will say that Hooper uses far too many close-ups. But Hooper is try­ing to bring emo­tion to the fore­front — to let us not only hear the an­guish in song but also see it in the faces. In other words, there are no cheap bal­cony seats with ob­structed views in this ver­sion of “Les Misérables.”

Amid all the gloom and doom, Hooper makes the most of the light mo­ments, es­pe­cially when fo­cus­ing on the no­to­ri­ous Thé­nardiers, played by Co­hen and Bon­ham Carter. They’re the un­scrupu­lous innkeep­ers who ex­ploit Cosette, the or­phan of Fan­tine, and they clearly rel­ish their over-the-top mo­ments as they try to fleece any­one within arm’s dis­tance.

Amanda Seyfried, who plays the adult Cosette, seems oddly out of place here. That’s a sur­prise, since she held her own in the 2008 mu­si­cal “Mamma Mia!” But Ed­die Red­mayne, with his pow­er­ful voice, fares much bet­ter as Cosette’s suitor, Mar­ius Pont­mercy.

“Les Misérables” has al­ready re­ceived four Golden Globe nominations, in­clud­ing two for Jack­man and Hath­away. And it’s sure to do well when the Os­car nom­i­nees are an­nounced in Jan­uary.

It’s hope­lessly old-fash­ioned, of course. It even ex­plores the no­tion of shame — some­thing that has been dis­ap­pear­ing from our cul­ture for the past cou­ple of decades.

And that’s a shame. Rat­ing: PG-13, adult themes, sex­u­al­ity, vi­o­lence. Run­ning time: 2 hours, 45 min­utes. The­aters: Alamo South,Ar­bor, Barton Creek, Cine­mark Gal­le­ria, Cine­mark Cedar Park, Cine­mark Round Rock, Cine­mark Stone Hill, Cine­mark South­park Mead­ows, City Lights, Flix Brew­house, Galaxy Moviehouse, Lake­line, Met­ro­pol­i­tan, Tin­sel­town Pflugerville, Starplex,Vi­o­let Crown, West­gate. Con­tact Charles Ealy at 4453931.

VER­SAL PIC­TURES UNI-

Hugh Jack­man as Jean Val­jean (left) and Anne Hath­away as Fan­tine in a scene from “Les Mis­er­ables.”

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