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Les Misérables

Broadway Returns to Hollywood

Dec. 23, 2012
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Although Broadway was once a consistent source of audience-tested material for Hollywood, in recent years the traffic has flowed the opposite way in the form of Lion King, Spider-Man and other blockbuster movies remodeled for the stage. With Les Misérables, Broadway is back, sending one of its biggest recent hits to multiplexes everywhere. The Tony-winning musical meets the Oscar-winning director, Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), who did a fine job of transferring it to the screen.

Aside from the familiarity of Les Mis, Hooper is banking on the star power of his cast to fill seats. The opening scene establishes the major characters, representing light and darkness in Victor Hugo’s novel. The good guy, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), is paroled after years of hard time for stealing a loaf of bread. The bad guy, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), will hear none of his hard luck stories.

Valjean stumbles through the same problems ex-cons face today; he’s unemployable, homeless and desperate until the kindness of a Catholic priest saves him. Valjean keeps reinventing himself, always remembering the unwarranted act of love that lifted him from the gutter, but Javert, the hellhound on his trail, is unrelenting in pursuit. Along the journey, which leads to the 1832 revolution in the Paris streets that inspired Hugo’s novel, Valjean adopts Cosette, the dirty-faced angelic daughter of the doomed prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway). Valjean and Javert are the moral engines of the story as a generous spirit duels with a shriveled heart and moral conscience contends with the implacable machinery of the law.

Hooper expanded the stage musical into dynamic cinema with vivid settings shot—especially in scenes of degradation—from askew Expressionist angles. One of his brainstorms was directing the cast to sing live on camera, rather than dub their voices later on, to enhance the immediacy. And like an opera or a high mass, every word is sung. The cameras are often in the face of the actors, granting the characters a range of emotional expression that doesn’t rely on grand theatrical gestures.

Little Cosette sings the production’s most moving number, “Castle on a Cloud,” in a tremulous child’s voice as she imagines a better place than the slum where she is confined. Looking as if she wandered in from Sweeney Todd, Helena Bonham Carter is game as ever as the greedy innkeeper, paired with Sacha Baron Cohen in elaborately choreographed hijinks. The more mellifluous Jackman, who started in musical theater, makes the craggy-voiced Crowe, a rock singer, sound small—as humanly diminished as Javert in comparison with Valjean. Hathaway is the showstopper, her beauty a picture of ruin as she restores desperation and regret to “I Dreamed a Dream.” The song has become a lesson plan for over-emotive singers. In Les Miserables, it is a reminder of how social and personal injustice can crush a human soul.


Home Movies: DVD & Blu-ray

Game Change

John McCain gambled by choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate and as this compelling HBO movie shows, some of his advisors worried from the get-go that she was a bad bet. Based on the book by Time magazine’s Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Game Change depicts Palin as unapologetically sincere, gifted with the common touch but woefully ignorant. It’s a human portrait, neither satire nor apology, and regardless of one’s opinion of Palin’s views, she seems sadly out of her depth. Julianne Moore is a dead ringer for the failed candidate.


Martin (Mathieu Demy) is a psychologically remote young professional in France. His mother’s death in Los Angeles, where Martin was born and lived until his parents’ separation, triggers a journey of self-discovery. Martin is a dull, depressed and befuddled protagonist; Salma Hayek steals the screen as his mother’s sultry, mysterious friend, the Tijuana prostitute Lola. The story seems loosely constructed, yet Martin’s gradually recovered childhood memories, shown as home movies, which adda visual and thematic interest.


Said to be banned in India, probably for graphic sex, Gandu (Hindi for “asshole”) is Slumdog Millionaire shot from the slumdog’s perspective. The protagonist is a bitter young nobody, gambling his future on lottery tickets and dreaming of becoming a rock star. Bengali director Q is all over the place stylistically, with creative use of split screens and captions and a few scenes of startling strangeness.


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