Ah, the aftermath of the French Revolution. Terror, unrest, a general sense of fear -- the perfect ingredients for an over-the-top musical extravaganza, no?
Yes, I'm being facetious, though perhaps only partly. It's hard to imagine what Victor Hugo would have felt if he could have seen the curious phenomenon that is the sung-through 1980s musical based on his 1862 novel. Instead of disquisitions on the Paris sewer system and religious practice, we have not-always-memorable songs.
Fans of the musical are likely ready to quit reading now. But no critic's opinion will have any bearing on whether they'll go see the film adaptation of their beloved "Les Miserables," which has taken so long to finally appear. They'll enjoy the more graphic imagery this medium allows, while grousing a bit over the movie stars cast in the main roles, rather than the experts in musical theater who would have done a better job with the material.
|2 out of 4 stars|
|Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway|
|Director: Tom Hooper|
|Rated: PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements|
|Running time: 160 minutes|
The story begins in 1815, when Jean Valjean is released from prison after serving time for stealing a loaf of bread, and climaxes with the 1832 June Rebellion of students against monarchy. The convicts sing, "You'll always be a slave," as they reflect on their never-ending work, but Valjean does become a free man -- sort of. His parole and papers marking him as a former convict mean he can never really escape the decision he made in a moment of hunger and worry for his family.
So Valjean rips the papers up, after a priest gives him a shot at a new life -- in this world and the one to come. Valjean becomes a respected mayor who strives to serve God with the fortune he's made. But Javert (Russell Crowe) determines to find the man who stopped honoring the conditions of his parole. And so Valjean's journey to redemption becomes that much more wrought.
It takes him decades, and it certainly feels like that in the nearly three hours you spend in the movie theater watching it. "Les Miserables" is simply too long and too slow. Theatergoers get an intermission when they see the musical. They also have the benefit of the theater's immediacy. Without that intimacy, the interminable pseudo-arias become tiring. Must every character get a solo or two that does nothing to advance the story?
Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who have some stage experience, conduct themselves honorably in their roles. But the stars are those who specialize in the stage, like Samantha Barks, who played Eponine for a year in the West End, and the young Daniel Huttlestone, who sang Gavroche in London as well. That might be why ensemble numbers such as "Do You Hear the People Sing?" are better than the showcase solos.
But if your Christmas must include streets soaked in blood alongside bawdy, dishonest, but so amusing innkeepers, "Les Miserables" is certainly the holiday movie for you.