CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Les Misérables" is, in a word, epic.
It's more than a film; it's an experience. The amazing cinematography, the complex plot, the stellar performances and the emotions it stirs inside of you create something you cannot truly put into words.
"Les Misérables" is an adaptation of the acclaimed Broadway musical, which is based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel. It's extremely ambitious, with a huge and exciting story, and it clocks in at about 160 minutes.
In an effort to ensure that the film experience isn't tarnished for those who haven't read the book or seen any of its adaptations, I'll only give the bare bones of the plot.
It follows ex-prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who became broken after 19 years in confinement for merely stealing a bit of bread. Recently paroled, he attempts to dodge Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) while trying to live a life full of kindness and love after his previous experiences. Javert, having been the one to originally free Valjean before he broke his parole and went on the lam, has sworn it to be his life's duty to bring him to justice.
"Les Mis" is a sung-through musical, meaning there's very little spoken dialogue. It's almost entirely in song, which turns the seamless musical numbers into pure expressions of emotion.
It's not the first sung-through musical film, but the concept is still alien to most audiences. It's a testament to the power of the musical genre, though; it's only through song that characters can express their pure anger, lust, sadness, greed and the like.
The cast is amazing not only with their singing, but their acting as well.
Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman have an intensity about them on screen that coincides with the nature of their characters. Crowe is aggressive and determined; Jackman is soft and humbled.
Anne Hathaway delivers a monumental performance as Fantine, a starving prostitute trying to support her child, Cosette. She completely becomes the character.
Hathaway said in interviews that the tears she cried when she cut her hair were real, but if the other tears she sheds in the film aren't, she could have fooled me. Like "Sophie's Choice" was for Meryl Streep, "Les Mis" will be the movie that cements Hathaway's status as an actress.
Helena Bonham Carter ("Sweeny Todd"), Sacha Baron Cohen ("Borat"), and newcomer Samantha Barks deserve special recognition as well. Carter and Cohen play the Thénardiers, who initially raise Cosette (played by newcomer Isabelle Allen) and continue to pop up throughout the film. Their performances are perfectly slimy, befitting the sleazy husband/wife con team, and their voices are impressive.
Barks, meanwhile, plays their daughter Éponine, who pines for her friend Marius (Eddie Redmayne, "My Week With Marilyn"). Marius, part of a student-led revolution, falls in love with the grown Cosette (Amanda Seyfried, "Mamma Mia!"). In her film debut, Barks plays Éponine with the sense of unrequited love the role requires, and her performance of "On My Own" is one of the best recordings of the song. She's a rising star and is sure to become a popular actress in Hollywood."Les Misérables" is a masterpiece of cinema and a near perfect movie. Though it tends to drag a little because of its length, it still manages to captivate and enthrall. Do yourself a favor and see it.