Les Misérables (2012)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 11, 2012 @ tonymacklin.net.

Les Misérables is a long, slow, musical slog. It's a dreary piece of work. It has its moments, but it seldom if ever takes flight.

The stage play soared.

The movie has a mostly appealing cast, but the director spars rather than punches.

Les Misérables is credited to eight writers. It's based on the stage musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg which in turn was based on the novel by Victor Hugo. The screenplay is credited to William Nicholson.

Les Misérables takes place in 19th- century France. It's the story of intrepid Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a thief who is pursued relentlessly by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) for breaking his parole. Javert's all-consuming goal is to capture the elusive Valjean. It becomes his singular obsession.

Valjean finds purpose in his life, motivated by guilt, when he promises the dying Fantine (Anne Hathaway) that he will care for her young daughter Cosette. He and the girl have to escape the clutches of the ominous Javert.

They hide in Paris which is in the throes of burgeoning revolution. Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), now grown-up, and Marius (Eddie Redmayne) fall in love at first sight. They dreamily think of each other.

Paris becomes the site of love, conflict, and destruction. It's the City of Plight. Will love and honor survive?

Director Tom Hooper relies on liquid more than music. He's in love with tears, rain, and slime. There's a profusion of tears.

Perhaps the most powerful scene in the film is when Fantine sings "I Dreamed a Dream" with tears glowing in her anguished eyes.

But Hooper likes tears so much, he spreads them like a virus. In scene after scene, characters cry. Almost every major character, at one time or another, has eyes brimming with water - carefully lighted - and tears spilling down their cheeks.

Les Misérables is as sodden as a tear-filled hankie.

Hooper gets bogged down by the bulk of his movie. The editing by Melanie Ann Oliver and Chris Dickens, who won an Oscar for editing Slumdog Millionaire (2008), doesn't help. It's often heavy-handed, especially in the awkward montages of faces.

The cast is worthy. By casting stellar major stars, such as Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, Les Misérables stresses performing art.

When the movie begins, it looks like Wolverine is facing off with The Gladiator. Go, Aussies. Some Aussie football?

Then they break into song.

Jackman, who won a Tony in 2004 for his performance on Broadway in The Boy from Oz, is a gifted actor and singer. He brings those gifts to the role of Jean Valjean.

Crowe, an adequate singer, brings his usual gravitas to the role of Javert. But his character seems less driven than poked.

Eddie Redmayne provides a fresh face, albeit often tear stained, to Marius, but his love at first sight with Cosette, at times, is strained. It can be a problem when the boy is cuter than the girl.

The song "I Dreamed a Dream" is given vivid potency by Anne Hathaway in an unforgettable example of emotionally-naked singing.

Because of her potent rendering of the song, Hathaway is now with Sally Field (Lincoln) one of the two leading candidates for the Best Supporting Oscar.

On stage, the song "Master of the House" was a show-stopper. In the movie, it's a show-slower. The master is played by Sacha Baron Cohen in the film's most questionable casting. Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who portrays his wife, are surprisingly unfunny. Instead of providing clever zest, they are only drably functional.

Director Hooper, who relied on wit in his Oscar-winning The King's Speech (2010), lacks wit in Les Misérables. He, like many directors, doesn't seem to know how to end his films. He ended the outstanding The King's Speech generically.

The ending of the play Les Misérable is convoluted, but Hooper fails to utilize the power it had on stage.

In the words of Marius, "There's grief that can't be spoken." But it can be sung. Endlessly and tearfully.

The movie Les Misérables sobs, blinks, and shudders.

But it doesn't soar.

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