Monday, December 24, 2012

An Epic Epic

Les Misérables      Final Cut Score: 95%

Etch it in stone: There will never be another stage to screen adaptation of Les Misérables. Tom Hooper has rendered any such effort feckless with his miraculous rendition of the legendary musical. It's as strong a contender as any film under consideration for best picture of 2012.

Either you know the tale or you're darn familiar with it: Thief turns do-gooder with the 1832 French student revolution as the backdrop. How's that for succinctness?

An electrifying Hugh Jackman (every bit Daniel Day-Lewis' equal in Oscar's Best Actor race) is said thief, Jean Valjean, an ex-con fleeing both his past and a hellbent-on-tracking-Valjean-down lawman, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).

While Crowe - sporting a "throaty" vocal delivery - is Les Misérables weak link in the casting chain, the balance of the film's thespians-turned-crooners is exceedingly exceptional. A bone-thin, hair-shorn Anne Hathaway maximizes her limited screen time as factory worker Fantine, uncorking a resonant version of "I Dreamed a Dream".

Eddie Redmayne is magnificent as Marius, a richie-gone-revolutionary who falls for Fantine's daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). But the revelation is Samantha Barks, the West End vet soars as Eponine, Marius' working-class, star-crossed admirer. Considering Barks had never set foot in front of a camera before, it's a doozie of a debut.

The effulgent praise extends to Hooper (The King's Speech), whose decision to have the actors sing live - not lip-synch - pays off with an organic feel unlike any musical ever adapted to film. Tossing the sterility of a recording studio-taped vocal in the trash heap works wonders for the film's intimacy – it's alive.

With a runtime of 160 minutes, Les Misérables is a long sit. As unorthodox as it sounds, a short intermission following "One Day More" - the play's hit the lobby point - would have been genius. It's the film's zenith, Hooper seamlessly splicing the major players together in song as we close in on the culmination of the fight for freedom. A standing ovation is warranted.

If you have reservations about being subjected to song after song after song (50 in all), put them aside and let Hooper's splendor wash over you. This is filmmaking of the most opulent order – par excellence.