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I was apprehensive about seeing Tom Hooper’s new film version of the musical Les Miz. Too emotional, too up-close and personal with full-throated actors, said the critics. But right from the initial confrontation between the legalistic guard Javert (Russell Crowe) and his prisoner Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), I got caught up in Victor Hugo’s powerful story of grace and redemption.

Hooper (The King’s Speech) chose to film the singers live—with no lip-synching—and I enjoyed the resulting immediacy and raw emotion. While Jackman and Crowe are at times a bit gravelly in their singing, particularly when the dialogue is sung, Anne Hathaway gives a standout performance as Fantine.

The grim depiction of injustice, corruption, and poverty in nineteenth-century Paris serves as an apt backdrop to Javert’s relentless pursuit of Valjean. The film’s gritty moments are not appropriate for young children, but adults and adolescents will be able to discuss the essential conflict between Javert’s commitment to the letter of the law and Valjean’s spirited acts of mercy. (Universal)

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