Stop singing. Seriously, stop already. My head throbs with the same thought throughout the interminable 157 minutes that make up Les Miserables
. It's like the characters are allergic to dialogue, and director Tom Hooper
, who drove The King's Speech
to Oscar glory, drowning under the admittedly ambitious task of adapting a much-loved musical for the big screen.
The demand for another screen version of Les Mis
(there have been numerous telemovies, miniseries and movies) is definitely there. Based on Victor Hugo
's classic 19th century novel about the 1832 Paris Uprising, the fully sung musical adaptation is the longest-running musical in history, running consistently on London's West End since 1985.
Its themes of hope, love, loss, redemption, social justice and revolution continue to strike a chord with audiences worldwide – more than 60 million people in 42 countries have seen the epic live.
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman
) is a former convict who was forced to serve 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. Breaking his parole, Valjean vows to change his life for the better, and becomes the mayor of a French town. Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe
) will not let sleeping dogs lie, pursuing the reformed criminal, who has formed a bond with starving prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway
) and her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen
, and later, Amanda Seyfried
Valjean vows to care for Cosette, removing her from the clutches of deceitful innkeepers Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen
) and his Madame (Helena Bonham-Carter
), and landing amid the poor's revolution against the monarchy.
The inherent problem in a virtually dialogue-free film musical is that the language of cinema deals in subtleties such as imagery, physical expression and actors' interpretations of scripts.
When everything is sung at high-intensity, ear-splitting melodrama, the characters lose their grounding in reality, the songs become one and the same, and the whole experience is frankly exhausting. Not to mention predictable – poor Anne Hathaway may as well just shriek "I am sad!" from the rooftops for 20 minutes straight.
On the plus side, Les Mis
has a handful of note-worthy performances. Hathaway's impassioned 'I Dreamed a Dream' is the undisputed highlight of the film, made even more powerful by Hooper's decision to have the actors sing live rather than to recordings. Hugh Jackman fares well too, given his musical theatre background, while the comic relief from Baron Cohen and Bonham-Carter is a breath of fresh air amid the tragedy and trauma.
Surprisingly, Russell Crowe is disappointingly drippy in both voice and acting, missing the chance to create a movie villain really worth hating (and loving to hate).
Hooper should be praised for trying his hand at a notoriously difficult film genre. As a fan of movie musicals, I would like to see more directors take such a risk. With powerful performances, fine cinematography and some heart-tugging moments, Les Mis
will please the fans, but leave others plain cold.
Watch the trailer now
Just how much weight did Anne Hathaway lose for Les Mis
? View our new slideshow of stars who starve for movie roles
to find out ...