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Les-MiserableIf the number 24601 brings a tear to your eye then you can likely skip past the synopsis paragraphs in this review as you probably already know the epic story of “Les Misérables.” For the uninitiated, however, what follows is the sad and tragic tale of obsession, love and redemption, now an all singing (but no dancing) operetta from “The King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper.

Based on the mega-musical that brought Victor Hugo’s 1862 French novel to Broadway, the film is a faithful adaptation of the show that inspired gallons of tears on the Great White Way.

Hugh Jackman is Jean Valjean, a French national imprisoned for two decades for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child. Once released he breaks parole, flees, makes a new life for himself and searches for redemption. Searching for him is police Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who refers to Valjean by his ID number, 24601. Their cat and mouse game spans two decades culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris.

Wringing extra emotional from the melodramatic tale is a side story concerning Fantine (Anne Hathaway), ill-fated factory worker (her story is one of the main reasons this is called the “Miserables”) and mother of an illegitimate child, Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen as a child, Amanda Seyfried as an adult). Forced into prostitution, she entrusts the care of her daughter to Valjean.

After the royal bollocking Joel Schumacher gave “The Phantom of the Opera” a few years ago the future of poperas on the big screen looked bleak. Sure “Chicago” hit some of the right notes, but apart from lighter fare like “Mama Mia” big time musicals have been few and far between at the movies.

Add to that the reputation of “Les Misérables.” It’s not only an emotional epic, combining a stew of audience grabbers like forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and courage but it’s also the world’s longest-running musical. Fan expectation is high.

Director Hooper’s all-star cast (with the addition of stage vets Samantha Barks and Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Valjean on Broadway) is game for the challenge, and once you get past the giggles at seeing tough guy Russell Crowe warbling operatic, it works.

Jackman is a natural, with both the acting and vocal chops to play Valjean. He’s the lead, the heart of the show, but he isn’t blessed with the most interesting repertoire. His songs are occasionally repetitive but perhaps because they’re weren’t prerecorded—as is the usual practice in screen musicals—but sung live on set, Jackman ups the sentiment and could land an Oscar nod for his work.

Crowe has better songs but a different approach, less musical theatre and more Pink Floyd.

Eddie “My Week with Marilyn” Redmayne as Marius is terrific in a strong supporting role and Amanda Seyfried’s voice is almost as big as her eyes, but it is Anne Hathaway’s performance that lingers.

As Fantine she has the smallest role of the leads, but given her slim screen time makes the biggest impression. Her version of the show’s four Kleenex signature song “I Dreamed a Dream”—shot in one take—is a microcosm of the entire show. It’s raw in its passion, hits on themes of life, death and disappointment echoed by the other characters and yes, it’s a little bit showy. Hathaway nails it and kind of blows everybody else away in the process.

“Les Misérables” succeeds by playing it straight. Hooper highlights the star power but underplays everything else. The film looks sumptuous, but wisely avoids the flamboyant approach that sunk “Nine” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

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