Tom Hooper's film of the musical Les Miserables is an exceptional movie of a mediocre musical, the kind of middlebrow melodrama that passes for profound on Broadway.
Part of the sorry big-box-musical era that brought us Cats, Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables was a hit in London and New York as much for its muscular and imaginative stagecraft as for its anthem-laden score, which had the sung-through quality of an opera -- a popera, if you will.
By having the actors in this film sing live on camera, rather than prerecord their voices in studios prior to reaching the set, Hooper gives the story a live, even visceral feel. It's as though this is a melodrama whose characters are so passionate that they can no longer speak their feelings -- they are forced to sing them.
The story -- distilled from Victor Hugo's five-section, 1,200-plus-page historical novel (full disclosure: Never read it, don't intend to) -- focuses on Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), about to be released from prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. On his way out of prison, his jailer, Javert (Russell Crowe), warns Valjean that he will be dogging him, just waiting for him to violate his parole so he can send Valjean back to the clink.
Instead, Valjean disappears, popping up a dozen years later as the rich owner of a factory and mayor of a small town; these kind of story twists were so much easier in the days before mass media.
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