Film review: Les Misérables (12A)

Noteworthy: Anne Hathaway gives a showstopping performance with Hugh Jackman in Tom Hooper's film version of Les Miserables
Noteworthy: Anne Hathaway gives a showstopping performance with Hugh Jackman in Tom Hooper's film version of Les Miserables
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This Les Misérables feels as dogmatic as Javert, and as cheesy as old brie

Les Misérables (12A)

Director: Tom Hooper

Running time: 158 minutes

Star rating: * * *

Do you hear the critic sing?

Singing a song of anxious men?

She has just been to Les Mis

Where the volume went up to ten

Watching actors who are game

(Though Crowe sounds like his name)

It is the music for a people who may not hear straight again.

THE most enduring of the 80s supermusicals, Les Misérables is a lot like its best-known set piece in the way that it bombards you with filling-rattling noise and intensity, like French revolutionaries at the 1832 barricades. There have been wars that are quieter than this, so if you like your musicals big, grandiloquent and firing on all cylinders, then this is the movie for you.

The sweep works pretty well at times: the opening scene of a chain gang of prisoners labouring to pull an enormous ship into dry dock looks like authentic toil, and has a decent shock moment when the camera searches the busted faces and finds the emaciated Prisoner 24601, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread.

It’s already widely known that director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) opted to shoot the actors singing live rather than lipsynching to a pre-­recorded vocal. He’s also a big fan of filming long takes in close-up, often with actors emoting to camera straight from the heart and uvula.

This is remarkably effective if you are Anne Hathaway attempting to reclaim I Dreamed A Dream from Susan Boyle by giving a raw new reinterpretation. You may not be a fan of Hathaway, but as the desperate, brutalised Fantine, deprived of hair, back teeth and dignity, her demolition of the song is an impassioned showstopper. Sure, it’s a performance, but one that brings the house down. The trouble is that nothing else manages the same emotional punch, and we still have another two hours of Hollywood actors shouting and Hooper’s unsubtle assaults on our tear ducts to go.

Partly, the problem lies with the structure of Les Misérables, which boiled five volumes of Victor Hugo down to Valjean, put on the path to goodness by a generous gift, but pursued relentlessly by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), who doesn’t believe in redemption.

Then after 90 minutes, the stage becomes vastly more crowded. Valjean rescues ­Fantine’s daughter Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) from a ­couple of venal innkeepers (Sacha Baron Cohen and ­Helena Bonham Carter, together in a musical for the first time since Sweeney Todd), and before you can wonder why, Cohen has adopted a random Inspector Clouseau accent, even though no-one else bothers, we are off to Paris, where boring Cosette falls in love with idealistic French student Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who has joined a revolutionary band of brothers, builds a ­barricade and is also loved, vainly and digressively, by the inkeepers’ daughter Eponine (Samantha Barks).

There’s a lot of death on the horizon, but still no time to give everyone their due, plus a terminal anthem. It could have worked if Hooper had taken a bold strimmer to the structure. Instead, this Les Mis feels as dogmatic as Javert, and as cheesy as old brie.

There’s not even much comfort if you love the songs –there are 50, plus a new ballad, Suddenly – because most of the actors struggle with the musical’s key. Even the appealing Jackman, a natural tenor, is pushed to hit notes that only dogs can hear, while less gifted singers such as Russell Crowe sound like David Bowie on a hotplate. «

Twitter: @SiobhanSynnot

On general release from Friday