*** (out of 5)
December 25, 2012
Hugh Jackman as JEAN VALJEAN
Russell Crowe as JAVERT
Anne Hathaway as FANTINE
Amanda Seyfried as COSETTE
Sacha Baron Cohen as THÉNARDIER
Helena Bonham Carter as MADAME THÉNARDIER
Eddie Redmayne as MARIUS
Directed by: Tom Hooper
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I come to “Les Misérables” with an embarrassing degree of pre-knowledge. I have never read the original Victor Hugo novel. Nor have I seen the Broadway production. In fact, all I know about “Les Misérables” is that one song (you know the one… it’s the “Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” of that production) and what I saw in the non-musical adaptation done with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush in 1998.
I’m not sure whether all of this was a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, I’m not coming to new film adaptation with any preconceived notions. The only cast I have to put out of my mind is Neeson and Rush, and I’m not saddled with any disappointment in the musical performances.
However, I don’t have the love of the Broadway musical that some do. And Broadway musicals make tricky film adaptations. After all, with a big stage musical, you come to the theater with a Playbill that lays out the characters, history and settings for every scene. There’s no such thing in place for cinemagoers. Normally, that’s not a big deal considering a story should be able to explain all this. However, “Les Misérables” has a bigger and sometimes more complicated cast than something as simple as “Annie” or even “Chicago.”
The story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a prisoner who is granted release after serving time for stealing bread. He is then dogged by Javert (Russell Crowe), a policeman who is unrelenting in his persecution of criminals – even if the crimes are not warranted. Years later, Javert runs into Valjean, who has created a new identity to become the mayor of a city. Still in pursuit, Javert sends Valjean on the run again, with Valjean taking the daughter of a dead prostitute under his wing to give her a better life.
Even though I don’t have a special place in my heart for the Broadway production, I imagine that people who do will love this adaptation. If they can divorce themselves from the original cast (which can be both better and not as good as those in this film), they should embrace the film.
Jackman, who has plenty of stage experience, has the presence to make his character work. His singing isn’t top notch, but it’s a far cry above that of Russell Crowe, who strains through much of the film. Crowe is imposing in the movie, but his voice just isn’t made for these kinds of songs. My wife put it best when she described his performance as being similar to Pierce Brosnan’s in “Mama Mia!” Crowe gets an A for effort, but not for performance.
There are still some great moments in the film, and many people are focusing on Anne Hathaway’s show-stopping solo, featuring the best acting you’ll see in the film. I also liked the delivery of both Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, who play the innkeepers who try to control the child Valjean is trying to save.
Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, “Les Misérables” definitely has presence and an epic feel to it. However, director Tom Hooper makes some very specific choices to shoot much of the film in close-ups. This differentiates the film from a stage production by offering a more intimate experience, physically bringing the viewer closer to the stars whereas the staged musical is by definition done in a very wide setting. However, this becomes unsettling at times and loses some of the grandeur that could have been captured.
For someone not familiar with the stage production, some power is lost with the characters that are known and beloved to the fan audience. And like many Broadway adaptations, the running time drags a bit. However, “Les Misérables” is accessible to the mainstream and expertly done from a technical level.
And you don’t have to spend Broadway prices to see it finally.