'Les Mis' strikes gold with silver-screen adaptation

Film Review Les Miserables
This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, left, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine in a scene from "Les Miserables." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Laurie Sparham)

SURELY ONE of the all-time weirdest movie two-fers belongs to Anne Hathaway in 2012, in which she played Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises" and now Fantine in "Les Miserables."

In the former, she is a sleek and thoroughly modern femme fatale - sexy, ironic, heartless, icily independent, often photographed in long shots to give us a full view of her slinky leather cat suit.

In "Les Miz," as a dispossessed French mother lost to the streets, Hathaway has her long hair shorn, and she sings earnestly about heartache. As she does, the camera moves in so close you'd swear it's not going to stop until it goes all the way up her nose.

This is director Tom Hooper's strategy in filming "Les Miz" - he goes against the conventional idea that you need to "open up" a stage play, and heads in the other direction.

He shoots almost every big emotional moment and singing soliloquy in extreme close-up.

In Hathaway's case, for her big "I Dreamed A Dream" solo, this was all done in a single, amazing take. The camera never leaves her, Hooper never cuts, slowly moving in until you'd swear Hathaway is going to fog the lens.

You see what Hooper is after here - a closeness that breeds a zoom-lens intimacy particular to movies - but is this the right choice? The songs in "Les Miz" are big, emotional missiles, meant to carry their three-hanky payload to the very back row, to bend around the pillars offering obstructed views.

It's a little scary to be so close to them. On more than one occasion, I was moved to duck, lest I be clobbered by another bold-faced declaration of love, plea for mercy, entreaty to God, or call to revolution.

There are times, though, when you surrender to the full-throatedness of it all, when you're watching Hathaway, or Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, the fugitive pursued throughout his life by the relentless Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe, not much of a singer), who is unmoved by his quarry's obvious reform. Valjean adopts and raises Fantine's daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), and rescues the teen's great love Marius (Eddie Redmayne) from the barricades of a failed revolutionary uprising.

And when the movie is stricken by bombast, there is Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the larcenous Thernadiers, providing sorely required comic relief.

I loved Cohen singing "Master of the House," maybe a little too much. You almost feel Cosette would be better off in the lively Thernadier saloon - frankly, Marius is a bit of a drag. (Samantha Barks, as his would-be girlfriend Eponine, has a quiet showstopper with "On My Own.")

To boot, I've always felt author Victor Hugo's most intriguing invention in this story was Javert, the puzzling, rigid man who can't abide mercy, who'd rather die than be forgiven. When Javert disappears, so does my interest.

But I speak for myself. Not for the dozens of sniffling "Les Miz" converts I passed on the way out as I lugged my heart of stone to the parking lot.


Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel

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