Directed by Tom Hooper
This haphazard movie version of the 1980s Broadway smash-hit consists mainly of a series of take-it-and-like-it close-ups of a predictable cast putting over the show’s bombastic, treacly songs. Most of the numbers were sung live on set, which allows us to become intimately familiar with the vocal straining of the performers as they struggle with songs written in keys that are punishingly high.
Hugh Jackman is the essence of persevering saintliness as Jean Valjean, while Russell Crowe is an appropriately menacing Javert. As Fantine, a gaunt Anne Hathaway plunges into her character’s suffering with such unseemly relish that she practically licks her chops with self-indulgent woe. Hathaway and Jackman play for sympathy so aggressively that responding to their exertions emotionally is like getting your pocket picked, and that’s not an inapt image for a musical that still wins applause from yuppies and post-yuppies cheering on revolutionaries who would gladly shoot them dead.
This Les Misérables takes place in some netherworld where prostitutes look like refugees from a nearby production of Cats and revolutions take flight in an ugly swarm of CGI extras. Director Tom Hooper can barely keep control of this large production. The song “Master of the House” is so poorly staged and shot that it’s hard to tell just who and what we’re supposed to be looking at, and Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who play the scheming Thénardiers, both seem like they received no direction at all. Whatever you think of this show and this score, it does come alive in the theater, but the big “One Day More” number loses all of its impact when it is reduced to frantic crosscutting between characters in different locales. Some stage musicals just aren’t meant to be movies.
Opens December 25