A very ill Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is held by Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) in “Les Misérables.” Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
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Film Review: ‘Les Mis’ reaches emotional depths

The power of the musical has never felt more alive and real than in director Tom Hooper’s adaptation of “Les Misérables,” bringing the raw emotions of the timeless Victor Hugo story closer to us than thought possible. 

Of all the musicals I have seen in my life, “Les Misérables” is my all-time favorite.

I saw it for the first time in a high school production at Cherry Creek High, and most recently at the San Diego Civic Center this year.

With that in mind, how could I refuse the honor of witnessing my favorite musical be given the big screen treatment? And not just any film adaptation, but a film adaptation featuring cast members singing live on set?

Set in 19th century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) an ex-prisoner, seeks to pursue a new life of honesty. For years he is hounded by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who has dedicated his life to recapturing the former convict for breaking parole. The dynamic between these two men changes forever when a factory worker-turned prostitute named Fantine (Anne Hathway) asks Valjean to take care of her illegitimate daughter, Cosette.

The conflict between Valjean’s kindness and Javert’s misguided sense of justice continues to escalate, all the while Paris trembles under threat of rebellion.

I could go on for hours on end discussing the film’s cinematography, editing, lighting, costume design, production design.

While each and every one of those technical aspects is worth commending, the only one you will probably recognize and enjoy the most in “Les Misérables” is the live singing.

The idea of singing the songs live enlivens the emotional poignancy of the film, establishing an authentic dimension to the characters. Anyone who cannot resist the powerful effect of such memorable songs as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Castle on a Cloud,” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?” to name a few, will be pleased when you not only hear the music, but feel it.

Hugh Jackman, being a musical theater veteran, is a fitting choice for the lead role of Jean Valjean.

It’s not just his voice that conveys the man’s path to redemption, but his eyes as well. Russell Crowe fully immerses himself in Javert’s uncompromising perspective on justice.

Anne Hathaway deserves a round of applause for highlighting Fantine’s inner and outer agony without going overboard. The sheltered innocence of Cosette is handled with delicate tenderness by Isabelle Allen as the child and Amanda Seyfried as the teenager.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen excel at making sure the unscrupulous Thénardiers get in your face by means of clownish antics.

Eddie Redmayne proves to be a competent performer when the film demands that Marius focus on either romancing Cosette or remaining loyal to the rebellion. Aaron Tveit imbues Enjolras with a charisma that elevates his performance to a status greater than that of a simple plot device. It is Samantha Barks, however, who embodies the idea of “owning a character” when it comes to her Éponine, thereby blowing all the other portrayals before hers out of the water.

There is no one I can think of who could’ve captured Éponine’s ragged independence and tragic ending better than her.

“Les Misérables” is the one film I strongly advise you see in theaters during the holiday season, and by that, I mean before the other big titles are released.

And as December reaches its end, remember how the music made you feel deep down inside — even if it was for just one day more.

Playing: General release
Runnig time: 2 hours 37 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for violence, and for some sexual content.