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Les Miserables

2012 (Tom Hooper) PG, 151 minutes

Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen

What helps make Les Misérables so vibrant and thrilling onscreen is Hooper's daring decision to have his actors sing live. No mouthing the words to prerecorded songs. The actors wore earpieces to hear a piano give them tempo. A 70-piece orchestra was added later to bring out the beauty and thunder in the score, by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer. The risk pays off. The singing isn't slick. It sometimes sounds raw and roughed up, which is all to the good. It sure brings out the best in the actors.

A never-better Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, locked up for nearly 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread. The convict known as 24601 escapes and makes a respectable life for himself as a small-town mayor. But he can't rest. Hunted relentlessly by the policeman Javert (Russell Crowe), Valjean is almost caught again when he tries to help poor, doomed Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a factory girl who sells her hair, her teeth and her body to support her child, Cosette. A dynamite Hathaway shatters every heart when she sings how "life has killed the dream I dreamed." Her volcanic performance has Oscar written all over it.  

Peter Travers,Rolling Stone