Film Review: Les Misérables (Universal, 2012)

BY TARA  MCEVOY

In case you’ve been holed up under a signal-barring rock for the past six months, Les Misérables is finally here! The French Revolution-lite epic for the Rom Com generation hit screens last month, scoring not only impressive box office figures but a host of awards-season nominations – Best Picture; Best Actor; Best Combined Effort to try and squeeze a listenable note out of Russell Crowe…

And more incredibly still, it isn’t completely heinous. Sure, the whole Liberty-Fraternity-Equality deal is largely swept under the carpet in favour of focusing on a schmaltzy love-at-first-sight angle featuring Eddie Redmayne’s slightly gormless revolutionary Marius and Amanda Seyfried’s sheltered Cosette. The plot may progress a little clumsily as we jump from musical number to musical number. And Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carters’ overegged performances will definitely inspire the kind of cringing usually reserved for particularly bad Gangnam Style tribute videos.

But when it’s good, Les Misérables is pretty darned brilliant. Despite being on screen for roughly 34 seconds, Anne Hathaway steals the show as Fantine – an extraordinary study in despair, deflation and eventual defeat. Similarly, Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean conveys an exceptional capacity for artistic transformation, initially barely recognisable as a starving, weather-beaten slave. In moments when viewers are faced with the plight of such characters, poignant depictions of human suffering cut through all the beige ballads and jazz hands on show. As the film reaches a rousing finale, Les Mis – for all its amateur dramatics – hits home with a pathos-laden pay-off that makes this guilty pleasure worth a watch.

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