I’m not one to defend “Les Miserables.” I’m not a particular fan of the musical, and the producers have made so much money over the last two and a half decades that they can insulate themselves from bad reviews. But overall I quite liked Tom Hooper’s movie. And I’m a little surprised that the Hollywood trades came down so hard today on the film. “Les Miserables” is going to be a big, big hit all over the world. And deservedly so.
What I said after that first screening on November 26th stands today: Hooper has done an exceptional job of bringing history to life. “Les Miz” is by its nature a big bombastic spectacle– it tells the story of a freakin’ revolution. Hooper’s job was to humanize what’s become an institution on stage. He succeeds completely.
Believe me, if “Les Miz” were a huge waste of time, I’d be the first to say so. But Hooper is too smart to let that happen. each character is delineated in such a way that you know their back story and predicament very quickly. Of course, Fantine’s story is the most compelling, and Anne Hathaway goes a long way to demonstrate the bleak nature of her fate. You have to mourn Fantine for “Les Miz” to work, and Hathaway leaves an indelible impression.
The entire main cast breathes life into the musical. Even Russell Crowe, whom we’ve criticized for his singing, is a capable Javert. Hugh Jackman and Eddie Redmayne are real standouts. I loved Samantha Barks and Aaron Tveit, as does everyone who sees the movie.
From the beginning Hooper knew he’d have live singing, and the actors would just sing right through the film. There’s no dubbing or lip-synching. This naturalistic approach is very different from the usual musical, where everything is recorded to perfection and then mouthed on screen. That’s a welcome relief in 2012. So some audiences may be put off by this but you get used to it fast. You don’t want people just breaking out, ridiculously, in song on film. I think Hooper’s been very ingenious the way he’s woven it in.
“Les Miz” is an exciting shot in the arm for an Oscar season. Nothing is perfect, but Hooper has done what seemed like the impossible. And the time flies by because he keeps the action moving. Maybe he’s getting a little backlash for all the success of “The King’s Speech.” But massive audiences are awaiting “Les Miz”–and ready to heap praise on Hooper and company.