Bringing a beloved stage musical to the big screen is no easy task. Translating something successful from one medium to another can be a horrible idea. You constantly hear people say, “The book was better.” Musicals have an even more difficult uphill battle. This genre appears to either expand or implode with each new musical on the big screen. For every blockbuster musical like “Mamma Mia” or “Grease,” there is at least one song and dance film that failed to connect with audiences. Having seen “Les Misérables,” it is clear where it falls on the spectrum.
The film opens on Hugh Jackman as prisoner Jean Valjean, a man on the verge of parole after spending 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. He aims to reform himself, though Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) is convinced it’s not possible. As the film unfolds, we see Valjean struggle to reinvent himself and do well by his fellow man, all the while Javert aims to send Valjean back to prison.
“Les Misérables” is a grand musical film. Having never seen any other form of the story (book, on stage, or the non-musical film versions), I enjoyed the story as it teleported the audience to 19th century France. I’m not one to really embrace film musicals, but this film is an exception. Its similarity to opera made it feel more fluid. Instead of a story being stopped for a song and dance number, the songs took over for parts of dialogue and managed to keep the story moving forward.
I’m a huge fan of Russell Crowe, and I really enjoy seeing Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in any capacity, so I went in curious and excited. Some will criticize Crowe and other actor’s abilities, but what really makes the songs work is the actors injecting the character into their songs. It isn’t Anne Hathaway singing, “I Dreamed a Dream” but Fantine crying out for help. On that measure, the music, though abundant, was enjoyable.
The big issue I had with “Les Misérables” is the same I have with many musicals; condensing something that is close to three hours long into a brisk but complete film version is hard to do. Many, in my opinion, begin to feel a bit lagging somewhere in Act IV, but usually picks up near the film’s climax. At slightly over two and one-half hours, “Les Mis” demands your attention for the better part of an afternoon or evening. The only difference is, despite its faults, the film still works. A solid film for the holiday season. 3.5 out of 5 stars.