Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried
Fit to bursting with awards-friendly gusto, Tom Hooper's big-screen take on the West End musical, based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, riffs off the notion that the world, in 2013, remains as unjust as it did in Paris in the 1830s. Streets are teeming with the dispossessed. Everything, it seems, is broken.
To help lead the barrage of larynxes, we have a pair of polar-opposite Antipodeans appearing together on screen for the first time. Hugh Jackman, who shed a whopping 30 pounds for the film's opening sequences, is suitably cast as the rags-to-riches figure of Jean Valjean, a man brutally jailed for stealing a loaf of bread before finding a new genteel life in other quarters. Valjean's arch enemy, the tough French cop Javert, who spends 17 years hunting his escaped prey down, is played by Russell Crowe.
Neither actor has much time to catch his breath. Jackman sings like a man possessed (and rather well, it has to be said), while Crowe valiantly battles to match his offsider's intimidating range. A female distraction, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), jumps in with her own considerable set of singing chops (and a sheared head). Comic relief comes via a set of husband-and-wife vagabond landlords (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen). Alas, if only someone, somewhere, is allowed to simply speak.
The chief selling point for this exhaustive romp is that the relentless singing is all performed live, as we see it (no overdubs allowed here). Depending on whether you love or loathe such stuff, you're likely to either applaud with Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque glee, or plan to flee at the nearest opportunity.
Oscars will surely follow, and the cash registers will no doubt sing. But quite why a stage-based piece - shot in an earnest but oddly simplistic fashion - warrants such a big-screen outing as this remains puzzling, to say the least.