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Updated Friday, December 21, 2012 at 05:54 PM

‘Les Misérables’ will make you sing and cry

By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic

Resistance is futile to Tom Hooper’s “Les Misérables.” It is going to sing at you until you succumb — and you just might.

“Les Mis,” as millions already know, is a sung-through musical tale (based on Victor Hugo’s sprawling novel) of love and death and revolution in 19th-century France, in which nearly every song is a catchy ballad and nearly every character we get attached to dies — generally immediately after singing an especially pretty and catchy ballad. The long-awaited screen version of the hit stage musical (now in its 28th year on London’s West End) makes things difficult for itself, with one key miscasting and a clunky opening sequence seemingly designed to clear the cinema of anyone not already a fan. But sit back and wait for this film — and these actors — to find their rhythms. This isn’t a great movie musical, but it’s a good one, with a couple of truly transcendent performances.

One of those comes from Hugh Jackman, who overcomes a rocky start (why does his voice sound so oddly tinny at the beginning?) to deliver a moving depiction of Jean Valjean, the saintly former convict now trying desperately to overcome his past. Jackman, a stage-musicals veteran, knows how to make singing seem as natural as speech, and his emotional connections with factory-girl-turned-prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and her daughter Cosette (played as a child by Isabelle Allen, then by a sweet but thin-voiced Amanda Seyfried) give the movie its heart. Russell Crowe, as Valjean’s nemesis Inspector Javert, is less successful: Crowe has a small, tight singing voice and — worse — he seems to stop acting when he sings, making the two an uneven match.

Hathaway, though in the movie briefly, is utterly riveting — in a performance that wouldn’t be possible onstage. Singing much of “I Dreamed a Dream” in a voice so tiny you fear it will fade away, like breath on a cold night, she makes Fantine’s pain immediate and real, and the way she curls her mouth into scorn on the song’s last line (“Now life has killed the dream I dreamed”) is devastating.

Hooper’s direction isn’t particularly imaginative; most of the songs are shot in tight close-up, which gets repetitive (as do all those ballads — though Samantha Barks as Éponine and Eddie Redmayne as Marius are particularly good at delivering them). But “Les Misérables,” with its ever-soaring music and ever-dreaming characters, has a grandeur to it, and the final interaction between Jackman and Hathaway would take a heart of stone to resist. Yes, I cried, and yes, I’m still humming; you might, too.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Movie Review 3 stars

“Les Misérables,” with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit. Directed by Tom Hooper, from a screenplay by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, based on Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Boublil and Schönberg’s stage musical. 160 minutes. Rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements. Opens in several theaters on Dec. 25.


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