Les Miserables is even more boisterous than the stage version on which it is based. On many fronts it is jaw-dropping what director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) has done to widen the scope of a story that is already epic. Yet, the transfer to the big screen suffers a few hiccups along the way.
Fans of the musical should be thrilled, particularly those that have seen the work on stage multiple times -- as legions have. It is a story that warrants many viewings, but what we have here onscreen with Les Miserables feels a bit off. First off, Hooper's use of extreme close-ups for most of the emotional singing gets repetitive after an hour. By the better part of three hours, it was simply too much.
Led by Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman, the cast is sensational... save for one "just OK." Hathaway makes the most of her time onscreen (which is not much) and belts out a I Dreamed a Dream that meets and tops all previous versions you've heard. As Jennifer Hudson scored an Oscar for singing And I Am Telling You in Dreamgirls, so too will Hathaway for her take on the song that made Susan Boyle an international superstar.
Hathaway does much more than sing in that iconic musical moment. The actress turns in a performance that will steal your heart and haunts the entire film.
Introduced in the Les Miserables trailer, Jackman is Jean Valjean, who serves as our entry into the Les Miserables story. He is a prisoner, who we learn is about to earn his freedom, despite the clear objections of lawman Javert (Russell Crowe). Valjean spent 19 years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family and that bitterness may lie inside him, but he takes the second chance at life and makes the most of it. That is, until his path once again crosses with Javert.
Valjean is now a leader in his community, when Crowe's military man shows up to execute his duty to protect the town. He is familiar with Valjean's face, but cannot pinpoint it. Once he does, hell is unleashed.
Production design dominates and should be rained upon by Oscar love. They capture post-revolutionary France with a devil in the details attitude of getting it right. And it is that fight for freedom that many may truly learn about for the first time. After the initial French Revolution, the monarchy returned to the throne decades later and it took a second revolution to rid them of the royals altogether.
Eddie Redmayne plays Marius, a man of privilege who is part of the resistance to overthrow the government. There is a love story centered around him and Amanda Seyfried's Cosette in Les Miserables that anchors the film and is a single ray of light in an otherwise dreary landscape.
As Javert... Crowe is devilish, yet his singing is a bit of a distraction. He is commanding on screen, no doubt, but his vocal tone misses the mark. As that turn may disappoint, a joy is found in Samantha Barks as the lovelorn Eponine. The stage veteran with the voice of an angel shines and that buzz surrounding her right now is more than warranted.
Our Les Miserables review finds the film is longer than it needs to be and in the end, feels a little bloated. A new song was added, most likely to qualify for a Best Song Academy Award, and it does nothing to advance the story. But, epics can be long, and considering the source material, what to cut must have been an enormous question to answer for filmmakers. Although Les Miserables is as faithful of a Broadway musical adaptations we've seen of late on screen, it isn't the heavyweight we expected nor what fans of the most popular musical of all-time deserve.
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