Full disclosure - I have never been a huge fan of Les Miz since its beginnings. My greatest memory of the show was meeting the late Davy (the Monkees) Jones in the audience during the perfomance that I attended. My problem with Les Miz? While I do find the score beautiful, I found the direction and the set design in the original production far too dark and dreary. And after the interminable length of the first act (two hours, if memory serves me right), the second act consisted of one endless reprise after another with just a smatterng of new tunes. (Composers, if you are going to keep an audience captive for nearly 4 hours, PLEASE, write some new songs for the second act. And, at the very least, divide the show into three acts so that we can stretch our legs.)
Like the broadway hit EVITA, I thought the show would improve dramatically in a cinematic incarnation. This proved true with the Lloyd Webber- Rice musical when Hollywood came calling (despite Madonna) and I held similarly high hopes that a good screenwriter/director would whittle Les Miz down to its essentials and streamline it into a great peice of film.
Well, chiclets - the reviews are in - and they have been generally favorable. I shall not pass judgement until I have seen it for myself. But here's the review from the New York Times plus a link to metacritic. I shall let you read them for yourselves. Perhaps you can comment afterwards and see whether you find them fair or unfair.
The Wretched Lift Their Voices
by Manohla Dargis, New York Times
Somewhere amid the grime, power ballads and surging strings there is also Victor Hugo, whose monumental 1862 humanistic novel, Les Misérables, was, along with the musical Oliver!, Mr. Boublil’s original inspiration. Like the show, Mr. Hooper’s movie opens in 1815 and closes shortly after the quashed June Rebellion of 1832, boiling the story down to a pair of intertwined relationships.
The first pivots on the antagonism of a onetime prison guard, now inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe, strained) toward a former convict, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman, earnest); the secone involves the love-at-first swooning between Cisette (Amanda Seyfried) and Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a revolutionary firebrand. As a child, Cosette was rescued by Valjean from her caretakers, the Thénardiers (the energetic Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, who nicely stir, and stink up, the air).
By the time the scene ends, Valjean hasn’t just been handed his release papers after 19 years as a prisoner, he has also become a Christ figure, hoisting a preposterously large wooden pole on to his shoulder. Mr. Hooper’s maximalist approach is evident the very moment the scene begins — the camera swooping, as waves and music crash — setting an overblown tone that rarely quiets. His work in this passage, from the roller-coaster moves of the cameras to the loud incidental noise that muffles the lyrics, undermines his actors and begins to push the musical from spectacle toward bloat. Mr. Jackman suffers the most from Mr. Hooper’s approach, as when Valjean paces up and down a hallway while delivering “What Have I Done,” a to-and-fro that witlessly, needlessly, literalizes the character’s internal struggle.
Mr. Redmayne’s sincerity complements Ms. Seyfried’s old-fashioned trilling and her wide-eyed appearance, even if their romance lacks spark. Then again, so does the movie. Song after song, as relationships and rebellion bloom, you wait in vain for the movie to, as well, and for the filmmaking to rise to the occasion of both its source material and its hard-working performers.
Les Misérables is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Gun death, poverty, face boils and revolution.
Les Misérables opened on December 25, 2012 nationwide.
Directed by Tom Hooper; written by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer; based on the novel by Victor Hugo and the stage musical by Mr. Boublil and Mr. Schönberg; music by Mr. Schönberg; lyrics by Mr. Kretzmer; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Melanie Ann Oliver and Chris Dickens; production design by Eve Stewart; costumes by Paco Delgado; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 37 minutes.
WITH: Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Samantha Barks (Éponine), Helena Bonham Carter (Madame Thénardier) and Sacha Baron Cohen (Thénardier).