Of all the ’80s supermusicals, this one—less silly than Cats, more timely than Phantom—beats loudest in the hearts of the Broadway faithful, and for the good reason that it feels like a real piece of art. French rebellion aches with universal compassion; all of Victor Hugo’s fantastical plotting is countered by the downer-dramatic ballad “I Dreamed a Dream.” In Tom Hooper’s powerhouse film version, Anne Hathaway, as the ruined Fantine, demolishes this number, live-singing a single, Falconetti-worthy take choked with pain and fierce regret. (You can only imagine the rioting on 45th Street had she been less than perfect.) Just for this small piece of movie magic, instantly iconic, the big-screen Les Miz is a triumph.
Then there’s the rest of it, and you probably already know where you stand. Russell Crowe’s pained vocal stylings (they sound more like barks) as relentless Inspector Javert can be forgiven after hearing Hugh Jackman’s old-pro fluidity in the central role of Jean Valjean, hiding a criminal past. The faintly unrealistic world that Hooper emphasizes with wide-angle strangeness could be a function of the mysterious abstraction of musicals themselves—a leap of faith that fewer viewers are able to make these days. Overall, you might just be wrecked and need a hug. Be generous with any naysayers and spread your arms wide; they’ll be weeping too.
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