Victor Hugo’s great novel has spawned various interpretations. The smashing new film musical is based on the stage production, which had long London and Broadway runs, with a screenplay by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer. The music is by Schönberg, the lyrics by Boublil and Kretzmer. Abundant behind-the-scenes talent as well has gone into making the film an exuberant success.

The overall look is breathtaking, with credit due production designer Eve Stewart and costume designer Paco Delgado, and of course, the striking cinematography by Danny Cohen. Everything combines to provide the settings for a series of winning performances.

Foremost is the portrayal of Jean Valjean by Hugh Jackman, who, along with the other stars, does his own singing live and not synched to already recorded music. Jackman reaches deep into the character of Valjean who suffers the injustice of being imprisoned for stealing bread for his sister and her family. He gives an impassioned performance, both in dialogue and song and is compelling in the period after his release from prison when he builds a new life.

A major force turns out to be Russell Crowe in the nasty role of Inspector Javert, who hounds Valjean throughout. Javert’s song expressing his motivation is moving and gains sympathy even though one disapproves of his obsession to put Valjean back in prison.

Anne Hathaway makes a strong impression as Fantine, and her customary attractiveness is layered over with the look of utter poverty and despair. She is scorned as a fallen woman, who dies and leaves her daughter Cosette to be raised by Valjean. The adult Cosette is played very nicely by Amanda Seyfried, while Eddie Redmayne is persuasive and charming as Marius, who falls in love with Cosette.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen make amusing comic villains as the scheming, grasping Thénardiers.

The film has the sweep on screen that is required to capture the dread of the prison galleys and the revolutionary action in the streets of Paris. When Valjean rescues Marius and carries him through the Paris sewer, it really looks like a sewer as Valjean wades through thick excrement. Tim Hooper has done a masterly job as director. This musical version stands tall among the best of screen musicals and adds yet another incarnation for the durable tale that Victor Hugo told in the 19th century. A Universal Pictures release. Reviewed December 18, 2012.

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