Les Misérables

Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman sing for their Oscars.

Over the last 30-odd years, I have somehow managed to remain innocent of all things Les Misérables. From its germination in Paris through its conquest of London’s West End, its 16 years on Broadway (plus another two in revival), its profusion of international productions (in some 20 languages), and its various vinyl and CD incarnations, I had until now seen not a moment and heard not a note (well, not very many notes) of this globe-throttling musical. So perhaps I can offer a fresh, nonpartisan assessment of Tom Hooper’s new film version.

First of all, it’s huge, not least in terms of its runtime. In a season of sprawling Oscar-nudgers, Les Miz, at two hours and 37 minutes, is longer than Lincoln, just as long as Zero Dark Thirty, and nearly as long as Django Unchained and the current champion butt-tester, The Hobbit. The cast is suitably large, and ranges in musical expertise from such seasoned belters as Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway to such unexpected vocalists as Eddie Redmayne (surprisingly terrific) and Russell Crowe. Yes, Russell Crowe. I know he has long fronted his own Aussie rock group, but that hasn’t quite prepared him for this.

Any movie that begins with Crowe stepping forth in song is a movie that summons dark fears. But while he does seem a little puzzled about why he’s here, he’s not bad, and he is a fine actor, of course, and he gets better as the story—distilled from Victor Hugo’s doorstopping novel—moves along. He plays Javert, the implacable police inspector who, over the course of 17 years, doggedly pursues the unfortunate Jean Valjean (Jackman), a man who was long imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread and then violated parole to escape into a new identity as a prosperous factory owner and provincial mayor. 

Along the trail of Valjean’s endless persecution by Javert we encounter an abundance of other characters. There’s the wretched Fantine (Hathaway), a former drudge in Valjean’s factory who is reduced to dismal prostitution in order to provide for her illegitimate daughter, Cosette (played in full flower by Amanda Seyfried, herself no slacker in the vocal department). Then there are the low-comic Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), hissable innkeepers into whose clutches Cosette falls, and the idealistic student Marius (Redmayne), whose longtime love for Cosette is a source of despair for the Thénardiers’ daughter Éponine (stage vet Samantha Barks), who yearns for Marius herself.

From the early prison scenes to the armed civic rebellion in the streets of Paris, virtually every line of dialogue here is sung. This is not a format of which I’m normally fond; but the songs (by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, and Jean-Marc Natel, English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer), while not uniformly hummable, are carefully crafted, and have a general harmonic enterprise that held my interest. Hooper’s elaborate interiors and charmingly artificial municipal vistas provide a lot to look at, and he has given the film a striking theatrical immediacy by having the performers actually sing on-camera, rather than lip-synch to pre-recorded tracks. The movie is basically a procession of showpiece scenes, and as I watched Valjean being frustrated by cruel circumstance in his attempts to do the right thing, and the other characters slogging their way through various sorrowful situations, I have to admit that I was sometimes moved to the verge of contemplating the possibility of tears.

In addition, Jackman gives what I think would have to be called an epic performance as the stalwart hero, maintaining a heartbroken dignity through all of Hooper’s endless close-ups. And Hathaway, in raggedy clothes and pitifully chopped hair, sailing into “I Dreamed a Dream” like a castaway on the high seas of misery, seems sure to secure the Oscar nomination for which she, like Jackman, is already being touted.

I’m not much of a movie-musical buff, but I was surprised by how enjoyable this picture’s earnest stew of musical and emotional overkill turned out to be. No matter how resistant you normally are to this sort of overflowing cinematic exercise, if you number among your loved ones any ardent fans of the stage show, you’ll almost certainly soon be seeing Les Miz. You might be surprised, too.

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  • ||

    Bring back Liam Neeson!

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    There's no time, man!

  • ||

    P.S. I got Loder's book for Christmas and the reviews I've read so far are really good. I had no idea how recently it was published; it includes quite a few movies from the past 3 years.

  • Delroy||

    My fiancee saw it last night with her 20-year old daughter. She's a big fan of musicals (I'm not, which is why she went with her daughter). She liked it, but she said it was sooooo looooong and after a while was thinking "when is this going to end?"

  • Xenocles||

    I knew it was going to be long going in, but it didn't feel long.

  • ||

    That's Not what she said.

  • Don Mynack||

    Only in Hollywood does Anne Hathaway (b. 1982) play the mother of Amanda Seyfried (b. 1985). Do these people ever think without running it by their cocks first?

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Um... seriously?

  • Xenocles||

    You don't think a 30-year old works as a mother? Remember, there's a lot of time compression in the story.

  • Raven Nation||

    Following from Xenocles: the movie jumps 8+ years between Hathaway as mother of a young girl and the introduction of Seyfried playing the daughter.

  • ||

    Was thinking the exact same thing.

    The fact that the movie progresses 8 years in the same time frame doesn't really make it any better. They still cast a 30 year old to play a 40 year old.

  • CharlotteHaze||

    Apparently Loder's not the only Le Miz virgin. Hathaway plays the mother of a six-year old. After being dead for about twelve years, she plays the mother of an eighteen-year old.

  • Xenocles||

    I thought it was a magnificent film, and I've never seen the show before. It seemed to me that the emphasis in direction was on acting rather than technical singing, which I appreciated.

  • Raven Nation||

    Agree & I, too, knew nothing of the show. My girlfriend, who has seen the stage show a couple of times, was impressed. She did think the singing lacked the power it has on stage & that Crowe was so-so. But overall, very impressed.

  • Scott S.||

    I still wish I had seen the Japanese version, where apparently the crazy host of the original "Iron Chef" played Jean Valjean.

  • ||

    On the docket for this weekend: Django Unchained and possibly The Hobbit. My daughter, 12, asked to see Les Mizz, and I explained to her that I put that on par with the Twilight movies, meaning that I refuse to see them. Naturally, she batted her eyelashes and said, "but daddy, don't you love me?"

    To which I replied, "yes, but within reason."

  • Stormy Dragon||

    My daughter, 12, asked to see Les Mizz, and I explained to her that I put that on par with the Twilight movies, meaning that I refuse to see them.

    Has she started resenting the fact her dad is such an uncultured buffon he thinks Victor Hugo is comparable to Stephenie Meyer yet?

  • ||

    Has she started resenting the fact her dad is such an uncultured buffon he thinks Victor Hugo is comparable to Stephenie Meyer yet?

    If hating screen adaptations of stage musicals (which I also hate) makes me a
    "cultural buffoon," then that's a label I will ewear proudly. And it is with the utmost zeal that I will attempt to pass on that proud tradition to my daughter.

  • ||

    My dad tried that and wound up with some of the girliest, musical-loving daughters you can imagine. And yes, I cannot wait to see Les Mis.

  • ||

    My dad tried that and wound up with some of the girliest, musical-loving daughters you can imagine. And yes, I cannot wait to see Les Mis.

    They say the preacher's daughter is always the naughtiest ;-)

    Anyway, I was being facetious. My daughter loves musicals, and I in no way discourage that or berate her for it. She has her opinion of Mammi Mia! and I have mine. ;-)

  • Stormy Dragon||

    There's a distinction with not liking something and thinking that everything you don't like must be trash.

  • ||

    There's a distinction with not liking something and thinking that everything you don't like must be trash

    I didn't say I disliked it; I said I hated it. That said, I didn't say it was trash, either. I realize there's a great deal of talent that goes into a successful musical. I like good music and I love great dialogue; I simply don't like hearing my dialogue sung. It grates on me, plain and simple.

    The closest I've ever come to liking a musical was Across The Universe. The differece, I think, was that they sang songs as interludes between passages of dialogue, rather than singing their dialogue.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    When you say something is on par with the Twilight movies, then yes, you are saying it's trash. ;)

  • ||

    When you say something is on par with the Twilight movies, then yes, you are saying it's trash. ;)

    Okay, you've got me there. ;-)

    How about this: in terms of creative talent, Les Miz is to Twilight what chateaubriand (made using Kobe beef) is to a McDouble.

    Better?

  • ||

    Watch a musical version of Twilight before saying that.

  • mr simple||

    It's the musical? I was really hoping it wasn't the musical.

  • uythsb||

    Merry Christmas,NBA ,NFL 2012

  • ETremens||

    Stop re-making Les Miserables. Stop it.

  • Syd Henderson||

    I really like this movie. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks are brilliant both acting and singing, Crowe's a fine actor but only okay as a singer (though his finale is good), Seyfried's the other way around. It's a good story all around. Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is the best five minutes of film this year, not just because she sings wonderfully, but because she also acts it brilliantly. She's a shoo-in for best supporting actress and deserves it.

  • J.C.||

    Kurt, you are a good man. There is no shame in crying. It is the only proof of goodness behind all artifice and alabaster.

    http://www.btci.org/bioethics/...../vid3.html

  • jili5||

    I really hate musicals, but I really like looking at Anne Hathaway. I think I'll give this movie a shot but I might have to mute it.

  • Stephdumas||

    Here a critic of Les Miserables posted on Breitbart
    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-H.....e-Of-Obama

    And if you like to see an exterpt of the 2000 version of Les Miserables with Gerard Depardieu and John Malcovich with English subtitles http://youtu.be/LcBQtqxFEvI ;-)

  • Tablet pc||

    In addition, Jackman gives what I think would have to be called an epic performance as the stalwart hero, i do not agree with this.

  • دردشة العراق||

    thank you

  • شات عراقنا||

    Nicest chat and chat Iraqi entertaining Adject all over the world
    http://www.iraaqna.com

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