Title: Les Misérables
What Does That Title Mean, Anyway? For those who don't parle Français, "Les Misérables" is French for ... "The Miserables."
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four silver candlesticks out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Ex-prisoner eludes dogged investigator for years, raises prostitute's kid, everybody sings.
Tagline: "Fight. Dream. Hope. Love."
Better Tagline: "You die, the girl dies, everybody dies."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Even compared to modern American penal codes, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) got a raw deal: five years for stealing a loaf of bread, plus 14 for trying to escape (and it wasn't even his third strike). But times are hard for an ex-con in post-Revolutionary France, and he breaks parole. During the events that follow -- becoming a factory owner and mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer, "adopting" the illegitimate daughter of a former worker of his he indirectly forced into prostitution, and getting caught up years later in the June Rebellion -- Valjean is constantly pursued by Javert (Russell Crowe), a policeman who refuses to acknowledge Valjean's redemption.
"Critical" Analysis: Hollywood had been trying to make a filmed adaptation of "Les Miz" (as the wags call it) for decades. Makes sense: it's the 4th longest running show in Broadway history and regularly appears near the top when someone lists the greatest musicals of all time, especially when you omit anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Which you totally should.
Even so, it took nearly 25 years to bring Valjean to the big screen (fun fact: Pink Floyd: The Wall director Alan Parker was originally attached ... that would've been something), and the results are pretty outstanding. Tom (The King's Speech) Hooper has preserved much of what made the original production memorable and used a feature film budget to kick things up a notch and expand the scope impressively.
For fans of the original production, there's much to like: Jackman may not be quite as vocally commanding as original (English language) Valjean Colm Wilkinson (he has a cameo as the Bishop of Digne) but the once and future Wolverine holds his own. Amanda Seyfried's "Cosette" is a little high-pitched for my liking (unfavorable comparisons to Disney's Snow White came to mind) but she's otherwise not bad.
But two performances stand out more than the others, for opposite reasons. To start with I can't say enough about Anne Hathaway's Fantine, the factory worker turned prostitute whose child Cosette ends up in Valjean's care. Broadway purists will doubtless prefer, say, Ruthie Henshall's take. But one advantage of film's intimacy vs. the stage is that it's no longer necessary to push your voice to the cheap seats. This allows Hathaway more emotional range, and "I Dreamed a Dream" is a knockout.
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And then there's Crowe. For the life of me, I can't understand why they cast the dude. Maybe it's been a lifelong dream of his to play Javert, maybe he and that bar band of his cover "Master of the House" in concert. Hell, for all I know he has pictures of Hooper molesting collies, but the songs you expect Javert to knock out of the park end up -- at best -- bloop singles with Crowe's limited range. It's even worse in songs like "The Confrontation" and "Soliloquy" where he's paired with Jackman. What should be blockbuster numbers fall depressingly flat.
Beyond that, things drag a bit in the second act (I have this opinion of most musicals, because my attention span has been ravaged by decades of MTV and paint huffing) and I think Marius (Eddie Redmayne) is nuts to go for Cosette over Éponine (Samantha Barks), both vocally and follicly. But then, I've always favored brunettes. Finally, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter, as the dastardly Thénardiers, provide some much needed comic relief amidst all the, uh, miserableness.
At best, I'm a sporadic fan of musicals, but I quite enjoyed the experience and (most of) the performances in Les Misérables. Questions linger (why does everyone in France have an English accent?), but for sheer spectacle you're not going to do much better this year.