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Latest film adaptation of 'Les Miserables' should delight fans, perplex others


I “dreamed a dream” Les Miserables was a at least a half an hour shorter

On Christmas Day, the film adaptation of the musical Les Miserables will barrel into theatres, with Oscar determination under its wing. However, the path to golden statue glory may be tough considering the bold artistic choices executed within the context, as well as an endless running time that will have many audiences pleading for an intermission.Photo: Universal

Most everyone knows the story of Les Miserables; it is one of the most successful Broadway shows, enduring the test of critics and time. Perhaps audiences connect with the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a convict wrongfully imprisoned, who escaped as a fugitive to start a new life.

His captor, Javier (Russell Crowe) would meet again with his prisoner years later, when Jean has started a new life as a factory owner. It is here he encounters Fantine (Anne Hathaway) a factory worker trying desperately to provide for her daughter who turns to prostitution when she is released jobless into the streets.

The story follows Valjean as he runs again from Javier and tracks down Fantine’s daughter Cosette, attempting to provide the girl with a better life than her persecuted mother. The French Revolution is woven in and out of the journey. The long timeline chronicles the step-father daughter relationship as Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) matures into adulthood and the runaway Valjean must finally face up to his past demons and make a choice.

The first thing that one notices about Les Miserables is director Tom Hooper’s audacious filming choices. Every character sings live, stripped of many the bombastic orchestrations that propel the musical on stage. The upside is that many of the characters are allowed to express emotions and detailed intonations that actually intensify the impact. Take Hathaway’s show stopping performance of the signature number “I Dreamed a Dream” The vulnerability, despair, and sorrow all bleed through Hathaway’s tattered voice, and the moment becomes so powerful that time basically stops.

Sadly, Hathaway’s moment is the pinnacle of a technique that works sporadically. Many other moments feel very flat, the live sing-talking mashing together into a bland monotone whole. There is a distinct lack of personality, and therefore it’s impossible for an audience to truly feel the emotion conveyed.

Additionally, Hooper further alienates new converts of the musical by stubbornly adhering so faithfully to the material, refusing to have a word spoken throughout an almost three hour running time. He’s also committed to filming every character in strict close up angles, which is smothering. It just becomes exhausting eventually.

Performance wise, Jackman is an excellent surprise but not because of his voice. A trained Broadway singer, Jackman sometimes struggles through the sing-talking and there is a bit of a nasally affect at times. That said, his character performance is outstanding, shaded with warmth, charisma and determination; Valjean almost single handedly carries the film.

Hathaway is clearly the Oscar standout, although she only appears screen for twenty minutes. The other real surprise is Samantha Banks, who actually has played Eponine on the stage show in England. Her performance of “Someday” in film is stunning, tinged with a true sense of heartbreak, destined to ignite waterworks in the audience.

In the end, Les Miserables is a mixed bag, demanding a second viewing really. However, judging from first impressions, the film is a long, bold experiment that’s too flawed overall to connect with this viewer on a grand level. Parts of Les Miserables absolutely soar, but there’s more than enough slosh to weigh this songbird down.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com

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Photo credit: Universal