OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Carter, Cohen shine in Hooper's movie 'Les Misérables'

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2012-12-28T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Carter, Cohen shine in Hooper's movie 'Les Misérables'Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Readers have both called and written to ask me about my thoughts for Universal Pictures film musical epic "Les Misérables."

So here's my review for this movie, which opened nationally Christmas Day and has gotten so much attention and promotion during the holidays.

I saw "Les Misérables" a month ago around Thanksgiving, while it was being screened for Chicagoland critics and media.

This 2012 British musical/drama film produced by Working Title Films runs just over two and half hours and is rated PG-13. The film is based on the stage musical of the same name by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg all based on "Les Misérables," the 1862 French novel by Victor Hugo.

With an all-star cast, it's directed by Tom Hooper, the man who gave audiences "The King's Speech."

Given a choice, I would pick the live stage performance of this story instead of this feature film adaptation.

As a movie audience member, it's oddly jarring to have the actors and actors breaking into song from scene to scene. Unlike other movie musicals, including the recent string of box office re-launches, nearly all of the interaction and dialogue exchanged between the characters comes in the form of song.

I've seen the Broadway stage version of this show three or four times. While screening the film, I found myself pondering whether or not I'd understand all of the plot if I were an audience member completely unfamiliar with this tale of Jean Valjean.

Played by Hugh Jackman, he's a former prisoner who becomes mayor of a town in France and who -- by a series of events -- agrees to take care the illegitimate daughter of Fantine, played here by Anne Hathaway. During this quest to right his wrongs, the Jackman character is dogged by Javert, the police inspector played by Russell Crowe, who is intent on returning his runaway prisoner to justice.

Amanda Seyfried beautifully plays Cosette as a young woman.

At the advanced screening I attended, actor Eddie Redmayne who plays Marius Pontmercy, the student revolutionary love interest of Seyfriend's character, was there to answer audience questions, as well as actress Samantha Barks, who plays Éponine, the rival of Cosette. Barks is the only principal cast member who played the same role on stage, in her case, during the London run last year that marked the 25th anniversary of the musical.

Also of note, look for actor Colm Wilkinson on screen for a cameo role as the Bishop of Digne who protects Valjean and inspires him to become an honest man. Wilkinson was the original Jean Valjean in the Broadway and West End musical productions.

I was more impressed with Jackman's singing for his role than Hathaway's vocals, while Crowe is rather wooden in song and characterization.

My standout favorites are the fun had by actress Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thénardier, who runs a tavern and inn along with her equally conniving hubby played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Their musical number "Master of the House" steals the show (and just about anything onscreen that's not nailed down!)

This is a film for fans of the musical to enjoy with long-awaited anticipation, since it's been in the works since the 1980s. And with a $61 million budget, you know there are plenty of bells and whistles to hold attention with the sweeping camera shots around Paris on location, and at times, some very odd and very uncomfortable close-ups.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

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