Premise: Escaped convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) tries to raise Cosette while evading the dogged pursuit of Officer Javert (Russell Crowe), as the French Revolution rages on in the background. Based on the hit musical produced by Cameron Mackintosh.
Behind-the-Scenes: The last film adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables came out in 1998 as a non-musical starring Liam Neeson as Valjean and Geoffrey Rush as Javert.
The Good: There is no escaping the fact that Les Miserables is a damn fine musical, featuring some of the greatest songs ever written for the stage. They play just as well on screen, especially in the hands of consummate musical theater pros like Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Jackman is riveting as Valjean and really gets a chance to stretch his acting (and singing) muscles in a way audiences haven't seen from him before. It's a tough, demanding role, but Jackman handles it with aplomb. Hathaway will likely earn herself an Oscar for her supporting work as the tragic Fantine. She doesn't have many scenes or screen time for that matter, and her character exists solely to die, but you can't help but be wowed after she finishes singing "I Dreamed a Dream." It's a real showstopper.
The Bad: Tom Hooper's direction. He may have won an Oscar for The King's Speech, but it seems like he prepped for Les Mis by watching Battlefield Earth. The constant close-ups, mixed with off-balance framing and constantly roving camerawork can be a real distraction. Sometimes the close-ups work ("I Dreamed a Dream"), but that's because Hooper stops moving the camera, sets up a static shot, and just gets out of the way of his actors. Russell Crowe has been taking a lot of flack for his less-than-optimal singing voice and apathetic performance. Not sure if that's just the character of Javert (a stick in the mud) or Crowe, but, in any event, he's not up to Jackman's level here. Adapting Les Mis for the screen seems to have accentuated some of the show's more problematic elements - particularly, the lame-ass, wholly rushed and unbelievable romance between Cosette and Marius.
Should You See It?: Yes, more so if you're already a fan of Les Mis. But Jackman and Hathaway make this worth a look for those who aren't indoctrinated yet.
Rating: *** out of 5 stars.