About 5 years ago on a vacation in New York City I had the privilege to see WICKED on Broadway. It left me speechless and forever with respect for stage production.
I don't know the history of the LES MISERABLES Broadway musical except for that it was a smash hit sensation from the 80's. The production has it's detractors saying that it's not very good that it's over bloated with a lot of pizazz and the source material is way too much ground to cover for a Broadway show. After seeing the film and getting lost a few times in the passage of time I could agree that this story is a lot to take in, even for a 150+ minute movie.
LES MISERABLES felt to me as if I was watching the Cliff Notes version of the Musical and novel. If I hadn't watch the adaptation from 1998 way back when and vaguely remember from that what was going on story wise, I'd be completely lost in this new movie and consider it one of the worst movie's of 2012. It took me about 20 minutes to settle in and appreciate and understand the flow of director Tom Hooper's vision. Once I settled in it became more and more entertaining.
The backdrop is 19th Century France and our main character is recently paroled criminal Jean Valjean. Valjean is a freeman but will always be under the watchful eye of the law forever under parole thanks to the ruthless policeman Javert. So Jean Valjean tries and tries but to no avail cannot get work. Frustrated and desperate he steals some valuables from a church. He gets caught and is set to go back to prison but the priest or bishop (I can't remember) tells the police that he gave Valjean these items. With Valjean's second chance he eventuality becomes a mayor. Feeling guilty for ignoring a desperate plea from factory worker and young mother Fantine, Jean Valjean takes it upon himself to raise Fantine's daughter Cosette. This decision will change their lives forever with always being on the run from Javert and Cosette eventuality falling in love with a lad involved with a student led revolution against the government.
I wanna say all these events take place over a twenty year time span I think. This is a lot to take in. Like I mentioned earlier if I had not known a little bit about the story like I did going in, then I'd be lost and severely criticizing the film. The edits are jarring and time lapses a lot with jump cuts. When Jean Valjean gets his second chance thanks to the priest and all, the very next scene is a jump cut and Valjean is a mayor. It's like I said Cliff Notes version.
Hidden in all the break neck pace and jump cut editing is actually a style and continuity I found myself amazed at and enjoying quite a bit. Some of it works and some of it does not in my opinion.
I liked how the filmmakers chose to make this adaptation ugly because quite frankly ugly is the correct tone for a story like this. The choice for live singing was a good one. This isn't a pretty soundtrack. I'm just trying to say that not everything is candy coated and easy to swallow. These voices are full of passion, pain, anger, and sometimes love. A lot of the performances are captured beautifully with tight close-ups and you really feel the performances. My favorite of these moments was Fantine played by Anne Hathaway who has a very powerful 4 minutes of screen time with a solo that is amazing!
Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway really give it their all here. It's true what everyones been saying about Russell Crowe, he's just not very good here. I didn't hate his performance but I did think he wasn't playing Javert evil enough. It felt to me that he was just phoning it in.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were great as Thenardier and Madame Thenardier. They both brought some well needed comic relief to liven things up a bit here and there.
Honestly by the end of the movie I felt they rushed the third act with the student led revolution and love triangle between Cosette, Marius, and Eponine. And with a run time of 2 ½ hours already invested I would have been fine with a 3 hour movie. When this comes out on blu-ray and is an extended edition I'd probably watch it again. Probably.
I can't give this a solid recommendation. I was just curious enough and found it to be just entertaining enough that I was glad I saw it. If you're a die hard fan of the musical you may find yourself having extreme mixed feelings overall because this is a different approach to the musical, you probably won't want to sing-a-long with the movie like you were planning to.