Film: "Les Miserables"; Cast: Aaron Tveit, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Hathaway, Colm Wilkinson, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Jackman, Isabelle Allen, Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen and Samantha Barks; Director: Tom Hooper; Rating: ****
Sad stories sell like hot cakes and "Les Miserables" tugs at your heart strings. An adaptation from Victor Hugo's eponymous book, it is not a historical story, but a classic tale of humanity, love and loss set against the backdrop of a political uprising in France, the French Revolution.
Directed by Tom Hooper, who had earlier done "The King's Speech", "Les Miserables" is a spectacular blockbuster. From the first to the last frame, the film enthralls you like a magnum opus.
It rolls out a non-linear narration. It is the story of a reformed man, Jean Valjean (Jackman) and a duty bound policeman, Javert (Crowe).
In 1815, chained prisoners are treated like slaves. Valjean, imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf to save his sister's son, jumps parole.
Wandering in the wintery streets, Valjean is astonished and moved by the Christ-like charity of the Bishop (Colm Wilkinson), who takes him in, and forgives him for attempting to steal silverware of the Church, making him a present of it and protecting him from arrest. With, "Why did I allow this man to touch my soul and teach me love?" - Valjean is a changed man.
Seven years later, he becomes a mayor and a factory owner.
One fine day, he bumps into police officer, Javert, who recognises him as the prisoner. And with the belief, "Once a thief, always a thief", Javert trails him.
His path crosses that of his poor employee Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and her daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), who falls in love with revolutionary firebrand Marius (Eddie Redmayne) just as Paris erupts in violence.
Valjean must unite the lovers before making his final reckoning with Javert.
This is an oft-told story. But what makes "Les Miserables" memorable is the melodramatic musical fare that it is. It is visually packed with emotion; filled with grief, romance, humility and humour.
The film charms its audience with passion, sincerity and an overwhelming force of the characters. Every line, every note, every scene is belted out with diaphragm-quivering conviction and unbroken, unremitting intensity. The physical strength of this movie is impressive: an awe-inspiring and colossal effort, just like Valjean's as he lifts the flagpole at the beginning of the film. You can almost see the movie's muscles flexing and the veins standing out like whipcords on its forehead.
Crowe offers the most open, human performance as a cruel, unbending law-officer and royalist spy. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are great as the dodgy innkeepers M and Mme Thenardier, respectively. The urchin, Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone), is charming as he addresses grownups in Cockney as "my dear".
Other moments are less up to the mark. Hathaway's fervent rendition of "I dreamed a dream", in extreme close-up, has been much admired, but her performance and appearance is a bit Marie Antoinette-ish. Her poverty-stricken character is supposed to have pitifully sold her teeth to a street dentist. Conveniently, this turns out to mean just her back teeth as her dazzlingly white front teeth are untouched.
The cinematography and production value are very good. Especially with Jackman hiking over mountaintops, and heaving a ship into a vast drydock alongside hundreds of other slaves, but apart from this, much of the film's final act is confined to one cramped studio set which represents downtown Paris.
The action should be momentous, considering that a revolution is brewing, but instead it seems paltry, and altogether more like a stage show than a film.