LES MISÉRABLES directed by Tom Hooper, written by William Nicholson from the musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer and James Fenton, based on Victor Hugo’s novel, with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne. A Universal Pictures release. 157 minutes. Opens Tuesday (December 25). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NN
Tom Hooper is lucky that Oscars can't be revoked. Otherwise, there might be a campaign to have him return his King's Speech best director statuette for his execrable work on Les Misérables.
Granted, it's a big leap from helming a glorified chamber piece about the problems of real-life royals to overseeing a big-screen version of a long-running musical about revenge, love and sacrifice during several decades in mid-19th-century France.
But maybe he shouldn't have got the job in the first place. He certainly demonstrates little affinity for the material. Judging by the wretched performances he wrings from his starry cast, he has a tin ear for music, and the emotional beats that work so well onstage (I've seen the show several times) are either missing or so overdone that they induce eye-rolls instead of tears.
Of course, the material itself, based on the Victor Hugo novel, isn't the subtlest. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who's been jailed 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, breaks parole and is pursued through the years and France's rapidly changing social landscape by Javert (Russell Crowe), a prison guard turned policeman. Also in the picture are Valjean's adopted daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a child, Amanda Seyfried later), the girl's doomed mother, Fantine (Anne Hathaway), and a bunch of hot-headed student revolutionaries.
In the theatre, these narratives and characters intersect organically, linked by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's melody-rich score and Herbert Kretzmer's earnest but effective lyrics. On film, the stories seem flat and disconnected, and at two and a half hours, Hooper loses control of the film's shape and tone. Even the musical's comic relief, the Thénardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), exude dreary exhaustion after a while.
Apparently, the actors sang their songs during the filming (rather than dubbing them in later). Not that that adds anything special. Tony Award winner Jackman strains his vocal cords and acting abilities as the conflicted escapee, Hathaway screeches and sobs through her single-take, Oscar-bait performance of I Dreamed A Dream, and Crowe - the worst of the lot - sort of croons his numbers as if it were show tunes night at the karaoke club.
The film's final third works best, with Seyfried and the student activists (headed by Eddie Redmayne and Broadway's Aaron Tveit) seeming to engage with each other while believably belting out their songs.
But, alas, they - like everyone else in this miserable project - fall victim to Hooper and his cinematographer's odd habit of capturing them in close-ups and/or at angles so skewed that everything seems a little off-kilter.
Take Gravol before watching.
Now that the rapturous early preview response has died down, Les Misérables' awards buzz seems to be on the decline, and director Tom Hooper's failure to score a Golden Globe nod doesn't help. But Anne Hathaway, if she avoids any more wardrobe malfunctions, will likely take home the supporting actress statuette, and the banal song Suddenly should get recognized in a weak field. Rising star Eddie Redmayne, who emerges unscathed in the film, could get a supporting actor nom. And a best picture nod isn't out of the question.