“Les Miserables” is one of the most famous stage productions of all time, and Victor Hugo’s novel has been considered a classic before that. Numerous versions have been performed, so a new production would have to be grand to stand out. On Dec. 25, director Tom Hooper released his much anticipated, all-star version with incredible vision, but it doesn’t have the necessary fire to make it great.
Beginning in France in 1815 and covering almost two decades, “Les Miserables” is primarily Jean Valjean’s (Hugh Jackman) tale of struggles. Imprisoned for stealing bread and receiving a much longer sentence due to escape attempts, Valjean has finally been released but can barely survive with his criminal status. When he finally receives a stroke of luck and mercy, Valjean strives to better himself and eventually becomes a factory owner and mayor. His attempt at paying it forward leads him to take in young Cosette (Isabelle Allen/Amanda Seyfried) as his ward when her mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is taken ill. Meanwhile, he is also being pursued by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) for fleeing his parole. When Cosette matures, she falls for a young revolutionary student (Eddie Redmayne), Javert continues to chase Valjean, and opportunist criminals Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) try to get money from Valjean. It’s an enormous book that is scaled back in musical form, though the film is still two-and-a-half hours long.
I had enormous hopes to see another Tom Hooper masterpiece (see “The King’s Speech”), but “Les Miserables” is a tremendous letdown for unforgivable though mostly personal dislikes. My main complaint is the camerawork; the film is dominated by close-ups that often become uncomfortable as the stars perform their emotional songs. As if to emphasize their sincere emotions, the close-ups instead enhance the awkwardness of the stars’ attempts to avoid looking directly into the camera and make the viewer feel as if only inches from their faces.
Another dislike is the feeling of being a stage production in the guise of a film. Like most stage musicals, a few of the stars have exaggerated and extremely expressive movements. Hugh Jackman has years of experience on the stage, and it shows. Though this hyperbole of emotion works on the stage since audiences are seated far away, this technique is over-the-top in the film medium, especially with the close-ups. Also like the stage, Tom Hooper chose to shoot the singing live in order to garner real emotion from the actors, but the transition from spoken to song lines feels awkward for me.
I have never been a fan of the entirety of “Les Miserables,” but I do like Javert’s obsessive hounding of Valjean. In Hooper’s film, though, Javert’s pursuit seems more coincidence than obsession. It is not until Valjean attempts to make amends with Fatine that Javert’s intent seems focused.
Fans of the musical will probably enjoy Hooper’s attention to details and the spirited performances along with cameos from original stars, such as Colm Wilkinson (the original Valjean). Other audiences might find the length unbearable.
Rating for “Les Miserables:” C+
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
“Les Miserables” is playing at almost every theater in Columbus, including Drexel and Gateway. For showtimes, click here.