Les Miserables Review: The Dream Dies a Little Too Late

Photo Credit: http://insidemovies.ew.com/2012/12/04/les-miserables-opening-select-imax-theaters/

Les Miserables is a bold, bombastic musical that crumbles a bit under it’s own weight, mostly due to the enormous runtime that may leave unfamiliar members in the audience having their own dreams.

Les Mis is one of those adored musicals that everyone who knows a thing about theater gushes about. To be honest, besides seeing half of the 1998 adaptation on TV years ago, this is my introduction to the work. I can see why it has garnered a fan base equal to that of any superhero or young adult novel, but it must have worked better on Broadway.

Tom Hooper’s swoops in with the high voices of slaves pulling a ship into port in France. We meet Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), haggard and defeated by his master, Javert (Russell Crowe). Released on parole, Jean makes a living in these dark times but is touched by Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a worker in his factory trying to take care of her daughter.

This first act is the best part of the film as Jackman commands the screen and Hathaway lends her unrelenting voice to Fantine with undeniable prowess. These two performances will be remembered as long as people still love this classic story. Jackman hasn’t been this good since the little seen Darren Aronofsky film The Fountain. And Hathaway’s brutal rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” will leave a lump in your throat long after she’s gone.

Jackman and Hathaway benefit from Hooper’s choice to have all the actors sing live on set, rather than doing it in post production. Russell Crowe does not. The actor’s roots in rock’n’roll don’t transfer well to Javert, making his first few scenes laughable until you get used to it.

After Fantine’s death, Jean takes up the role of father in Cosette’s (Amanda Seyfried) life, taking her away from her thieving guardians Thenardier and Madame Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter respectively). Sweeney Todd veterans Baron Cohen and Bonham Carter steal just about every scene they are in, no pun intended, adding comic relief and chemistry that much of the rest of the cast lacks.

That includes Cosette and Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who slow the film to a crawl, taking away from the revolution story and replacing it with simple forbidden teen love. This is when people will start checking their watches. Seyfried and Redmayne fail to take the spotlight from Jackman and Hathaway, even though they are given so much time to do so. It even goes so far as to hurt the emotional beats when Jackman is thrown back into prominence that the big emotional scenes of the third act aren’t as powerful as they could have been.

Luckily they are not ruined. Mostly due to the power of the music that rings throughout the entire film, which appropriately introduces a number of cues that get callbacks later in the film making for big, unified piece of entertainment.

Those who already love Les Mis will love this adaptation, and it may even win over some skeptics. But the length muddles everything down and makes the payoffs not quite as great as they should be. Several great performances aren’t enough save an entire film from feeling all over the place. But it helps. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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