LES MISERABLES – Review by Susan Granger

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Based on Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel, this epic, cinematic adaptation should attract audiences that have loved the Broadway musical over the years.

Set in squalid 19th century France, the film opens in 1815 with emaciated Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) as prisoner 24601, serving 19 years at hard labor for stealing of a loaf of bread, under the watchful eye of implacable Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Eventually paroled, Valjean is condemned as an unemployable ex-convict. The sympathetic Bishop of Digne (Colm Wilkinson, who originally played Valjean on Broadway) gives him food and shelter; in return, Valjean steals the Church’s silver candlesticks. When Valjean is caught, the Bishop tells the authorities that the booty belongs to Valjean, instructing Valjean to use it to make a better life. Within eight years, Valjean becomes a wealthy factory owner, known as Monsieur Madeleine. He takes pity on single mother-turned-prostitute, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), desperately protecting her daughter, Cosette, by paying disreputable innkeepers (Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen). Years later, with brawny Valjean as her protective guardian/adoptive father, now-grown Cosette (Amanda Seifried) falls in love with rebellious Marius (Eddie Redmayne) during the 1832 Paris Uprising.

Written by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schoenberg and Herbert Kretzmer, it’s bombastically directed by Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), who retains the pop opera structure with only minimal spoken dialogue. Hooper’s innovation is having the actors sing ‘live’ on the set, as opposed to recording with an orchestra beforehand; this was done only once before, unsuccessfully, by Peter Bogdanovich in the disastrous “At Long Last Love” (1975).

Exuding agony, Hugh Jackman nails Valjean’s “Soliloquy,” “Bring Him Home” and “Who Am I?” with every emotion magnified by close-ups. Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” is wrenching, assuring her major Oscar contention, echoed by Samantha Barks’ plaintive “On My Own.” Russell Crowe tentatively warbles “Stars,” while Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen romp through “Master of the House.”

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Les Miserables” is an anguished, unrestrained, relentlessly amplified 9, a uniquely overwhelming, even exhausting extravaganza.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.