'Les Misérables' stars Hugh Jackman in a piece of ideal casting.
“Les Misérables” is a great big behemoth of a musical, but I rarely felt weighted down by it. It’s based on the Cameron Mackintosh production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s French stage musical – one of those shows, like “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” that always seems to running somewhere in the world. It passed me by, though. I come to the movie fresh.
Or at least partially so. The great big behemoth of a source novel by Victor Hugo has been filmed numerous times; its narrative has been recycled endlessly (most memorably in “The Fugitive” TV series and, less memorably, the movie).
Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, imprisoned for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread in early 19th century France. Released by the cruel martinet Javert (Russell Crowe), he violates his parole, but manages to become an upstanding citizen (while hiding his past). Javert eventually comes to hound him once again, which provides the through-line for a plot that encompasses a starving, unwed mother (Anne Hathaway) and her young daughter (played as an adult by Amanda Seyfried); the daughter’s cruel guardians (Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter); a revolutionary leader of the 1832 Paris student uprisings (Eddie Redmayne) and his unrequited love (Samantha Barks); and enough squalor and grotesquerie to fill out a dozen other movies.