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By Admin | December 28, 2012

I had the good fortune of experiencing the musical version of “Les Misérables” when it opened on Broadway in 1987. It was a fascinating production in which the weaker aspects of the source material – a significantly dumbed-down Cliff Notes-worthy version of the Victor Hugo novel and a high-fructose pop music score – were deftly camouflaged by Trevor Nunn’s innovative theatrical direction and by the extraordinary energy of the ensemble cast.

I also had the misfortune of experiencing the new film version of “Les Misérables”, which fails to hide the weaker aspects of the source material and, with the exception of a single sequence, never brings any imagination to the screen adaptation. But even if I never saw “Les Misérables” on stage, I would still have difficulties with this dreary, enervated endeavor.

For starters, the film is often at odds with its musical theater roots. Director Tom Cooper Hooper decided to have the cast sing their lines live, rather than lip-sync; orchestrations were added later in post-production. However, this results in having the bombastic score toned down dramatically, with many of the numbers presented in a benign talk-sing conversational manner similar to how Rex Harrison performed his numbers in “My Fair Lady.” This could have worked with the right cast, but “Les Misérables” is not stacked with a strong line-up of actors.

As the fugitive parolee Jean Valjean, Hugh Jackman stomps through the film with a pensive look while spitting out his songs with no degree of enthusiasm. The charisma and star power that Jackman usually brings to his film work is strangely absent here – his Jean Valjean is so bland that it is hard to stay sympathetic to his cause. The most embarrassing moment in the film comes when Jackman performs “Bring Him Home,” arguably the show’s most poignant song. As originally presented on stage, “Bring Him Home” is Valjean’s painful and borderline-pathetic plea to God to spare the life of the young revolutionary Marius. In the film, Jackman impatiently shouts out the lyrics with the finesse of a gym teacher putting his class through a calisthenics exercise – his presentation totally steamrolls over the heartbreaking angst laced within the lyrics.

Jackman is challenged in the miscasting by Russell Crowe as the ruthless military officer Javert, who pursues Valjean over the years. Crowe’s flat vocalizing fails to tap into the seething malevolence and self-righteous arrogance that frames Javert’s brutal mission. Even worse, the star doesn’t even bother to phone in a performance – for most of the film, he walks with a slightly dyspeptic expression. As a result, the film’s core drama evaporates because there’s nothing to fear from this boring Javert in his lethargic pursuit of the equally dull Valjean.

However, there is plenty to fear from Anne Hathaway’s doomed factory worker Fantine. Her well-publicized weight loss gives her a ghastly appearance that matches her character’s descent into deprivation. But while Hathaway avoided food in preparing for this film, she compensated for her dietary restriction by chewing the scenery with uncontrolled gusto. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is performed with such a broad physicality – complete with eye-rolling, grimacing and convulsive gestures – that it is easy to assume her big number is a prelude for a surprise transformation into Mr. Hyde. And any hope for “Les Misérables” to lay claim to subtlety goes out the window with that number, though some Oscar voters may be sympathetic to Hathaway’s hamming.

Elsewhere in the commotion is Sacha Baron Cohen trying to be funny (and failing, as usual) as the miscreant innkeeper Thenandier, Helena Bonham Carter trying in vain to squeeze something out of the nothing role as Cohen’s scheming wife, and Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Radmayne as the one-dimensional saccharine lovers Cosette and Marius.

Adding to the confusion are a few scattered CGI effects that can be detected with very little difficulty and some fairly erratic cinematography that includes headache-inducing handheld shots and scenes that are so poorly lit that it looks as if the sets were illuminated with a 40-watt light bulb. But at least these flubs help to distract from the fumbling of the misguided cast.

In fairness, the film is not a total flop. Fortunately, there are two redeeming performers via a pair of theater veterans: West End actress Samantha Barks as Eponine, whose unrequited love for Marius seals her doom, and Colm Wilkinson (who played Valjean in the original Broadway production) as a monsignor. They add a degree of intelligence to the proceedings, and at least they know how to sell a song.

Also, director Cooper Hooper peppers the latter stretch with a violent (and nonmusical) extended sequence detailing how the French military effectively destroys the barricades that were erected during a failed Parisian revolt and then systematically murders the student rebels. This section is the only time that the film actually comes alive with some degree of motion and power, and Cooper Hooper fills the screen with gut-wrenching moments of bravery and cruelty that effectively channels the soul and spirit of the Hugo text. But when that is done, everyone starts singing again.

All told, I dreamed a dream of a much better movie than this. “Les Misérables” is, on the whole, fairly miserable.

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  1. Allie says:

    “I just wasted 10 min of my life reading your trash”

    So why did you? You could have stop reading and left this page at any time.

    Stop complaining about someone else’s opinion. If you don’t agree with it, too bad.

  2. S says:

    Wow, did you think you should have been hired to direct, sounds nothing but a lot of jealousy and venting
    Do the world a favor, do not ever ever share your thoughts on movies ever again, I just wasted 10 min of my life reading your trash

  3. Jacqueline Elston says:

    I have seen Les Miserables two times now and will go to see it again. Yes there a few people that didn’t like it but the vast majority of people coming out of the theatre were weeping and not because the movie was bad but because it touched them so deeply. The critics just don’t get it. It is not about the music, or who played what role or the camera shots. It is a story about humanity and the age-old universal struggle of mankind. Those who got hung up on musical performances or production values missed one of the most inspiring and uplifting films I have seen in years. If that closing scene did not make you want to stand up and cheer for justice and victory over adversity then it is no wonder our world is so complacent about the horrors people have and continue to endure. I loved it for the rawness and the roughness and emotional darkness.It felt real.It made me think of my ancestors and their struggles and sacrifices that laid the groundwork for the liberties we have today. If it had been a bunch of professional singers and thespians playing the roles to perfection it would have lost something. That is why so many of us”easily entertained” common folk loved it.

  4. Paul Atkinson says:

    This review is right on. Dreadful movie and adaptation of an awe inspiring stage production. If you have seen LesMis multiple times on stage you won’t like this. Had they really wanted to do it right, rather than get SO SO vocal talent, they would have cast real Broadway thespians who could do the songs the justice they deserve. I like Crowe and Jackman as Master and Commander and Wolverine. Not as Javert and Valjean. Horrid to say the least and fodder for those easily entertained.

  5. Mike henderson says:

    I have today that’s one of the most self indulgent, pissy film reviews I have ever read.

  6. Jackson says:

    Sorry but this movie was terrible, and it is the first film that I can ever remember walking out in the middle because it was so poorly made. The singing was irritating, the camera work was very amateur, the directing was nonexistent. In one scene you could actually see the camera lens bounce around as the cameraman bumped into a table and then a door frame while he was walking backwards.

  7. Raz says:

    You must be joking, right? Crapping all over Anne Hathaway? Her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” was, simply put, one of the most incredible scenes I’ve ever seen on the big screen. The entire audience was mesmorized. You’re way too harsh and out of touch to be taken seriously as a film critic.

  8. Scott says:

    This review is spot on. Yes, musical theater and musical films ARE different, which is why it’s a shame the director tried to make the stage musical into a film in the first place, rather than completely conceiving it as a CINEMATIC piece instead. The musical material is weak to begin with all the way around, with weak characterizations, alleged songs, and self important earnestness to last a lifetime. The film should have stripped away most of the Broadway show and kept only the barest of key incidents and rebuilt it from scratch.

    Quite simply, it’s the worst stage to film adaptation since sweeney todd and camelot. And that’s saying a lot.

  9. Austin Devine says:

    Chewing the scenery MY A*S Anne Hathaway did a spectacular playing Tantee A PERSON IN PAIN as she is singing she is putting emotion into the song that way we feel the pain she’s going through how is that in any way “chewing the scenery” 2nd the close-ups have a purpose Tom Hooper wanted to you to feel the actor’s emotion’s and he wanted to see the actors sing up-close because obviously this is a sad story and he wanted it to look like staged play is that a crime 3rd why is everyone nitpicking we get a good quality movie for the first time and this is what u do NITPICK NITPICK NITPICK this was a fantastic movie and you know it nitpickers

  10. Amanda says:

    You are clearly a Musical Theater Fanatic..
    Just to inform you..
    Musical Theater and a Musical Movie are two completely different things.
    Clearly you only understand one of the two..
    Next time go to Broadway and stay clear of the cinema..
    or at least leave the movie reviews to someone else 😉
    I get the review from your Theater perspective, and I am sure every person has some remark on how they would have done this or that differently..
    But hey, we have a Les Misérables movie version.
    Let’s all enjoy it just as it IS!

  11. Lemorande says:

    This review is very accurate

  12. J Miller says:

    Hall’s criticism of Anne Hathaway was pure, unadulterated idiocy. Why is this fool a movie critic?

  13. Carly says:

    People like you should not even have the chance to speak any opinion whatsoever. It’s clear the movie was way over your head. Better luck understanding it next time.

  14. Cleo Cat says:

    Russell was miscast, but you CAN get used to his nasal-signing. Just get over it. Hugh Jackman was amazing in his acting more-so than his singing, though I thought both were B+, or A- quality.

    Anna Hathaway was exceptionally beautiful in her display of RAW EMOTION. It seems many broadway fans want to here the pure notes of the original musical and they will be extremely disappointed by this movie if they expect that. FEELING and EMOTION is what makes this movie stand out. Anne didn’t “Shreek” that song, as one critic said. She sang it as her character would have done in real life in that situation with that emotion and cracking voice and occasional screech of pain.

    I loved the film and will be watching it over and over. It surpassed my previous love of JCS (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Rice) as my favorite musical/story.

    Cinematography; the closeups were great on the singers. It’s *different* and the point was to show the emotion that they had while they sang those songs LIVE in those scenes. If you were the producer and decided to make them sing all the songs live in each scene (as opposed to lip-sync, post-production), would you pass up the opportunity to capture their face singing up-close?! NO! That was the brilliant side-effect of Hoopers decisions to sing live. And the HD focus (with background blurred) was very nice to look at. even with marius’ freckles. 😛

    Thanks for listening ;).

  15. Phil Hall says:

    Sorry about that one, Sam, and I appreciate your catching it. At least I didn’t identify the source material as coming from the pen of Victor Hugo-a-Go-Go!

  16. Sky says:

    The review is all that stinks. The movie is amazing. Were you expecting them to just “film” the Broadway production? They were true to the music and to the story line. The cast was very talented, which astonished me. Who knew Russell Crowe could sing?

    This review comes across like someone who thinks “only the negative reviews are taken seriously.” The fact is, it is a quality production and when it ended the theater where I viewed it erupted into applause equal to the three live stage productions of it I’ve seen.

  17. Sam says:

    It’s Hooper. Not Cooper. Get your facts right at least if you’re going to trash it.

    BTW I love the film and I don’t blame you for hating it. I like the film because it is raw, cold and hard, as how the novel is.

  18. Katrina says:

    Your review is bombast from a pompous a*s whose opinions mean nothing. To describe the score as high-fructose pop shows how little you know about music in general and this musical in particular. Consider another career, one in which you embarrass yourself slightly less.

  19. BillD says:

    Hated the film, Loved the Stage Version.

    This movie is BAD.

  20. george says:


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