Epic, emotional ‘Les Misérables’ showcases powerful performances

Anne Hathaway in ‘Les Misérables.’ Rated PG-13, 157 min. Universal Pictures, 2012.

The advantage of seeing a musical like “Les Misérables” on the big screen, versus on stage, is that the emotions are writ large – in this case, incredibly large – on the clear and contorted faces of the actors. With two and a half hours of almost entirely singing, the cast pulls off one moving show-stopper after another, with only a few bumps along the way.

Directed by Tom Hooper, this stunningly-filmed adaptation tells the classic Victor Hugo tale of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a former convict who reinvents himself as a noble man. Jackman’s sing-talking grows tiresome, but not as much as Russell Crowe’s bland Inspector Javert, who hunts Valjean.

The revelation here is the director’s technique of having the actors sing live on set, rather than lip-sync to their studio recording, resulting in ad-libs and imperfections that heighten the realism and emotion. Marvel at Anne Hathaway’s truly heartbreaking “I Dreamed a Dream,” Samantha Barks’ wistful “On My Own” and Eddie Redmayne’s striking “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”

The bizarro duo of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen nearly spoil the tone, but this “Les Miz” is still strong enough to hold up.

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