I've seen the stage production of "Les Misérables" 10 times. I counted. I also watched the PBS special "Les Misérables 25th Anniversary," the one with a Jonas brother (Nick, to be precise) in the cast, twice when it aired last March. Now I can add the movie version to my list.
Director Tom Hooper, who won the 2011 Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director for "The King's Speech," is behind the camera for "Les Miz," producer Cameron MacKintosh's 25-year dream of getting his Broadway play on film.
Watching "Les Miz, The Movie," however, won't be everyone's dream night. It clocks in at 165 minutes and nary a word is spoken; this is a Broadway modern opera where every inch of the story is told in song. If you weren't a devoted musical theater fan before you committed almost three hours of your life to this film, "Les Miz" will not convert you.
Yet, what nontheaterphiles will find to entertain them is an A-list cast who sing their hearts out (whether they can sing or not). If you haven't heard, since it's been trumpeted everywhere, there was no lip syncing for this movie. Hooper insisted that the actors sing live with only piano accompaniment in their ears while the cameras rolled; the orchestrations were added later. This is supposed to be groundbreaking, and add more drama to the performances.
Hugh Jackman, an experienced Broadway actor, puts in the most solid showing as Jean Valjean, a petty thief who has spent his life running from the law. His crime? Stealing a piece of bread. Jackman's job to stay one step ahead seems more tedious than his character's. There are times that poor Hugh appears to be working harder than everyone in the cast in order to keep this musical melodrama from taking a nosedive. At least that's the way it feels. His voice is truly amazing, however, and he sings a few notes that sound like they should register in a frequency unable to be heard by humans.
Anne Hathaway, whose performance is getting Oscar buzz, plays Fantine, the factory worker who takes to the streets to keep her daughter fed. Hathaway gets the signature song, "I Dreamed A Dream," which she plays to full melodramatic effect. Hooper believes a constant close up of Hathaway's face as she cry-sings the words, her face full of tears, her nose Rudolf red, will offer that emotional punch, and her performance will rip your heart out. Hathaway didn't make me cry like Susan Boyle did. Perhaps it's the difference between a performance that's truly heartfelt and one that is played to purposely tug at your heartstrings.
The other joy besides Jackman is Eddie Redmayne, who was so memorable in "My Week With Marilyn." Here, he brings the same innocent charm as the young rebel Marius.
Newcomer Samantha Barks as the innkeepers' daughter, Eponine, is another standout. Her rendition of "On My Own" is realistically dramatic and utterly heart wrenching.
Give Russell Crowe a hero's medal for taking on the role of Inspector Javert, the former jail guard who has spent his life's work tracking Jean Valjean. His gruff baritone, with Hooper pumping up the volume and shooting Crowe in a few tonsil-showing close ups, won't put Crowe on the short list for more singing roles, for sure. And Amanda Seyfried, whose voice was so wonderful in "Mamma Mia," sounds like a small warbling bird in her role as Cossette, seeming as if she could break at any moment.
Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Barton Cohen as husband-and-wife innkeepers who are constantly on the take add comic relief, but are over-the-top manic, which loses its appeal soon after their first clownish number. And what is it with Bonham Carter's roles of late; does she have a clause in her contract that says she must sport brown and disgusting prosthetic teeth for every role?
Staging the musical adaption of this 150-year-old French novel in any incarnation is a monstrous and daunting task, and there is much to be appreciated in this production, from the sweeping location shots to the period costumes. Hooper certainly had a vision and it comes through clearly. He has created a Hollywood musical of astounding proportion.
Mizfits (the nickname for rabid fans of the stage productions) will find a dream come true in this production, but for ticket buyers who have never been exposed to the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1862 classic novel? I'll bet a pittance that their "Les Miz" list never gets past the "I've seen it once" mark.