Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Epic misery


Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne in Les Miserables. Photo: Universal Pictures
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Victor Hugo's runaway locomotive of a novel Les Miserables turns 150 as its epic-scaled story hits the screen for the seventh time. For those of us hooked on the stage production, director Tom Hooper's long-awaited screen version builds slowly. It's a matter of personal taste whether Hugh Jackman's heavy-lifting turn as the persecuted convict Jean Valjean gets your juices flowing. Maybe it's Anne Hathaway's stirring embodiment of factory worker/prostitute Fantine, mother of the orphan child Cosette. Dramatically, Russell Crowe is more than adequate as Valjean's nemesis Inspector Javert, but his vocal range barely registers.

For me the film, with its realistic depiction of 19th-century poverty and rebellion, really kicks in when we're on the barricades with the lovely Eddie Redmayne as the idealistic young revolutionary Marius. The sight of Valjean carrying the wounded Marius out of harm's way through the Parisian sewers invokes all manner of queer fantasies.

Otherwise, Hooper, whom I've adored for The King's Speech, The Damned United and the John Adams TV bio-pic, builds the personal, romantic and political themes to a crescendo that should resonate for holiday audiences looking for intelligent escape. Plus there's the incomparable Helena Bonham Carter finding all the right notes from her Sweeney Todd travesty to invest this somber piece with a few delicious comic pit-stops.

Catch this one for its extraordinary cast, with a great techno gimmick: the actors sing the score live on film instead of lip-synching to playback. (Opens on Christmas.)

Deadfall "It's alright, little sis, it's a good sign when you feel a little bad."

No sooner does Addison (Eric Bana) utter this scrap of down-home philosophy to his scantily attired sibling Liza (Olivia Wilde) than the car they're riding hits something in the snow, and this fast-paced, very bloody, very Freudian and quite entertaining latter-day noir gets off to a roaring start.

Addison and Liza have just held up an Indian casino in Northern Michigan, and are escaping with a driver accomplice and a bagful of cash. After a rather impressive car wreck, their driver is dead, the money is scattered in the snow, and they need Plan B fast or they're not going to make it to the Canadian border.

Help arrives in the form of a state trooper who is shot dead by Addison before we can glimpse his face. Deadfall director Stefan Ruzowitzky, screenwriter Zach Dean and cinematographer Shane Hurlbut are attempting to revive the old Hollywood B-movie in an adrenaline-fueled action picture where adults can satisfy their bloodlust with appropriate psychological underpinnings to rationalize away any moments too close for comfort.

If you can take yourself back to the headspace of audiences who gorged on Humphrey Bogart's hardened escaped convict Duke Mantee (The Petrified Forest) on the eve of WWII, through the early Cold War pleasure of Robert Mitchum's innocence-devouring psychotic preacher (The Night of the Hunter ), then you'll be able to appreciate Deadfall on its own terms. While it falls considerably short of these classics, in an era of morally enervating long-form TV nihilism (Dexter, Breaking Bad), Deadfall is refreshingly old-fashioned in that it allows us to vicariously identify with pitiless, self-justifying bad boys who fall well short of the Nietzschean playbook.

Troubled characters on the run Jay (Charlie Hunnam) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) in Deadfall.
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

After killing the trooper, Addison tells Liza to fend for herself – so the authorities may not connect her to their crime spree – with the goal of meeting up later at the border. The filmmakers then play their strongest hand: parallel storylines that allow their high-performing cast to converge for a very chilly Thanksgiving Day feast.

Bana's high point comes in a surreal moment in a snowbound cabin where Addison confesses to an old-soul little girl, whose abusive stepdad he's just slaughtered, about how his childhood experience of rescuing his own little sis from their bad daddy qualifies him as her guardian angel. Another diverting subplot finds female sheriff's deputy Hanna (Kate Mara) rebelling against her sheriff daddy's (Treat Williams) hopeless chauvinist ways.

Deadfall's true breakout performance comes from an actor well-known to queer audiences. Few will ever forget Charlie Hunnam's extraordinary debut in the British Queer as Folk as the frisky 15-year-old Nathan, who is inaugurated into gay sex by a ravenous older dude with a hungry tongue. Hunnam's follow-up as Dickens' orphan boy Nicholas Nickleby appeared to seal his screen fate as a modern, sensitive lost-boy hero: a little too sensitive for his taste, as it turned out. Hunnam has spent most of the last decade toughening his image and perhaps his reality in a series of "real men" turns ranging from a British soccer hooligan to Deadfall's ex-boxer just out of prison with his own deeply rooted daddy issues.

The scenes where Hunnam's Jay rescues Liza from a snow bank, romances her in a snowbound truck stop, then brings her home to meet the folks are a great example of how an actor can spurn "sensitivity" without turning into an Anthony Michael Hall beefcake parody.

Enjoy this lovely noir on its own terms, and skip the theatrical trailer, which contains far too many spoilers. (Opens Friday.)


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