I might be a cynic, but even I’m not immune to fun, over-the-top movie musicals like “Mamma Mia” and “Chicago.” Tom Hooper’s “Les Miserables” possesses some of the same traits, but the mood is somber and on a much grander scale. With the exception of 2011’s “The Artist,” “Les Miserables” is the showiest film in the past decade. It screams, or in this case sings, Oscar. There’s little doubt that it’ll receive several Academy Award nominations, with Anne Hathaway considered the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress. Still, “Les Miserables” isn’t a flawless film.
The film, which is based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name, stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, a prisoner who finds salvation in God and breaks parole to start anew. “Les Miserables” also stars Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Russell Crowe (Javert) and Samantha Barks (Eponine).
For the most part, the casting is spot on. Hathaway’s role as Fantine, a single mother turned prostitute, is perhaps the film’s best performance. However, Eddie Redmayne’s rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is the one song that I can’t stop listening to. He may not be a professional singer, but singing lives enables him to act out a wide range of emotions
The only actor miscast is Russell Crowe. His performance as Valjean’s antagonist is not out of the ordinary for Crowe. He’s expressionless, failing to act while singing live. While the other actors, particularly Jackman and Hathaway, rise to the occasion. To be fair though, the musical adaptation of Javert is the least interesting of the ensemble cast. Speaking of an ensemble cast, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as a pair of thieving innkeepers provides much-needed comic relief from the film’s bleakness.
While I admire its live singing, it was difficult to sit through the film. There’s no talking, which is something I haven’t seen in other movie musicals. In addition to long, single shot takes of song after song, the film almost three hours long. This latest film version of “Les Miserables” could have benefited from an intermission.
In addition to being brutally long, the film is almost too Oscar-friendly. A four-minute featurette spotlighting its live singing along with the grand set design is fodder for Academy voters. In the end “Les Miserables” is a great film to see on the big screen, but it doesn’t deserve the massive notoriety it has received.