Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by William Nicholson
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter
Rated PG-13 | 160 minutes
Release Date: December 25th, 2012
Tom Hooper‘s new film, Les Misérables, is based on the musical production by Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer, which is of course based upon the 1862 French novel by Victor Hugo.
This musical film adaptation, scripted by William Nicholson (Gladiator), features Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, a Frenchman imprisoned for stealing bread, who breaks parole and must escape the tireless police Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe).
The pursuit consumes both men’s lives, and after two decades on the run, Valjean finds himself in the midst of the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris where he must confront Javert for the last time. The film’s ensemble is comprised of Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and the humorous duo of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, who play shifty innkeepers.
For those unfamiliar with the musical production, Les Misérables is entirely sung, more like an opera than a traditional stage musical. There are close to 50 musical numbers in the film, which would be great – if they all didn’t sound the same. Every line of dialogue is sung, making the individual musical numbers slur together – more like a subconscious stream of bombastic music and pretty words than actual storytelling.
Part of the problem is director Tom Hooper (2010’s The King’s Speech), who stages every scene and song in the same exact manner – with the camera swooping in on the performer before zooming in for an extreme closeup. If the camera were any closer to Jackman or Hathaway, you would see spit sliding down the screen before the lens fogged over.
The result is a monotonous, one-note musical that does little to excite and even less to stir emotion. As Fantine, Hathaway provides the emotional high point during her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” – which comes 20 minutes into the film – leaving the remaining 2+ hours underwhelming, drawn-out, and altogether uninteresting. As a counterpoint to Hathaway’s award-worthy appearance, Crowe is by far the worst as Javert – an important role wasted on Crowe’s inability to sing or demand our attention in his search for Jackman’s Valjean.
The performers’ voices (with the exception of Crowe) are fantastic and having their audio recorded live on set adds a dimension of intensity and authenticity to the performances – but the way Hooper has orchestrated this lifeless opera drains the characters and their musical numbers of any real emotion. Fansof the stage production will love it regardless, as they know every song by heart and have seen the characters portrayed by various actors over the years, but that doesn’t mean Hooper’s film is good.
Perhaps it will be enjoyable for the select group of individuals who are simply happy to see their beloved musical adapted into a big-budget movie with Hollywood stars and stunning production values – but Les Misérables isn’t cinematic. Whereas Joe Wright took Anna Karenina and adapted it for the screen, Hooper set up the camera in the front row of an opera house and walked away.
I can’t imagine revisiting Hooper’s film – though I will definitely YouTube Anne Hathaway’s five minutes of glory when I need a good cry. She musters more emotion and drama in one number that Hooper manages to squeeze out of 160 minutes. I dreamed a dream this film was 40 minutes shorter and didn’t have 10 endings – Les Misérables defies time, feeling longer than Lincoln, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy combined.
If you intend on seeing Hooper’s film in theaters, be sure to load up on black coffee and pack a sandwich, because watching this film feels like work – there should be two mandatory 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch to help ease the burden of watching Les Misérables. In my opinion, you’re better off calling in sick.