Les Miserables **** (PG-13) Many Broadway musicals suffer in the transformation from stage to screen. Annie and A Chorus Line come to mind as disappointments. But when they don’t, the results can be stunning, as was true for the likes of West Side Story, Sound of Music or Chicago. This one
surely soars into the latter category, with a predictably superb performance
from Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, and surprising vocal chops from Russell
Crowe and Anne Hathaway, as dogged Inspector Javert and tragic single-mother
Fantine. Even more impressive is the entire production team behind director Tom Hooper, making an epic that would have wowed Cecil B. DeMille. Costumes, sets and choreography will give those behind-the-scenes folks a slew of nominations throughout awards season.
Fans of the play will likely appreciate both the closeups, and the grand scale of the exterior scenes, enhancing intimacy with the featured players, and the bold heroics of 19th-Century Parisians suffering under the monarchy and its enforcers against overwhelming odds. I also found the lyrics easier to follow from the screen than during the live stage experience.
One element that could have been handled better was Sacha Baron Cohen’s turn as the comically mendacious “entrepreneur” of the slums, Thenardier. The over-the-top comedian we loved as Borat and Ali G was so restrained that the offsetting levity his scenes should have contributed turned out to be surprisingly bland. Fortunately, that deficit is minor in balance with all the first-rate components so well deployed by Hooper. Since his work has mostly been in television, with the glowing exception of helming The King’s Speech, ramrodding this challenging project so effectively is even more impressive. (12/25/12)