How has it taken this long to bring "Les Miserables," in its beloved musical form, to the big screen? Based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo and originally premiering on stage in France in 1980, the production was eventually translated for English-speaking audiences and, after a two-year run on Britain's West End, made its Broadway debut in 1987. It has been performed more or less uninterrupted, in various forms, ever since (part of what has kept it away from the screen was an arcane clause that said the movie couldn't happen until 30 years after its debut, sinking plans for an earlier, Alan Parker-directed project).

Well, like a prisoner locked away for stealing a loaf of bread and finally released from the big house, the wait for a big-screen "Les Mis" is finally here, ready to be rapturously received by a whole legion of ardent fans (this time with an all-star cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter). But is the movie only for diehards or can casual viewers also enjoy the film? Also: is it any good? Read on to find out.

PRO: Anne "Where Is My Oscar?" Hathaway Anne Hathaway has been a cinematic treasure for a number of years now, ever since she shook off the shackles of her "Princess Diaries" notoriety and transformed herself into a Very Serious Actress. In everything from "Brokeback Mountain" to this year's "The Dark Knight Rises," she's dazzled, and in "Les Miserables," she takes things to the next level. As Fantine, a factory worker who loses her job and is forced to do things like sell her teeth, her hair and her body, just to support her young daughter, she is absolutely riveting. She also has the biggest moment in the film -- a nearly unbroken performance of the beautifully heartbreaking "I Dreamed A Dream" (sung, like all the musical numbers in the movie, live). At the screening we attended, spontaneous applause erupted from the crowd after she finished. It's that powerful. She will no doubt be rewarded, deservedly, for her trouble, with Oscar gold.

CON: The Direction The last time director Tom Hooper got behind the camera, for the frightfully boring "The King's Speech," he walked away with Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. This time around, he uses the same unsubtle approach. At the press day for "Les Miserables," Hooper said that there were two different kinds of epics -- epics in scope and the epics of the human face. This is his fancy-pants way of explaining why he shot almost everything, including the musical numbers that are supposed to be all oversized and triumphantly theatrical, about six inches away from the actors' mouths, leaving you to listen to the song while counting the pores on Hugh Jackman's face. It's incredibly distracting and, worse than that, ugly. Hooper just isn't a very good director, Oscar or no Oscar.

PRO: The Actors Fully Commit Whether it's Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway cutting away all their hair or Russell Crowe going out on a limb with his big rock star baritone, the actors of "Les Mis" really commit to their roles wholeheartedly. Even Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, who co-starred in the infinitely better movie musical version of "Sweeney Todd," have a ball in their brief roles, even though they're saddled with "Master of the House."

CON: There's Just Too Much Music It's weird to complain about the amount of music in a musical, but there's simply too much of it. You can probably count the number of spoken-word moments on one hand. One of the reasons the aforementioned "Sweeney Todd" is a better adaptation is because it only utilized something like 40 percent of the original musical's songs, which made for a much more streamlined affair, one that allowed for actual human interaction and, you know, dialogue. What's more: there's a brand new song in this movie. While Hooper will tell you it was because he wanted to underline an emotional transition about halfway through the movie, it's really because without an original song, it can't be nominated for the Best Song Oscar. And if "Les Miserables" is gunning for one thing, it's Oscar gold. Viva la revolution!

PRO: The Transitions Are Ace We're a sucker for any kind of technical flourish, and there's a great one in "Les Miserables" -- when the movie jumps forward in time, it's met with a super-cool transition, usually involving an unnaturally long, computer-assisted tracking shot and an accompanying title card. (The movie opens with an amazing title card, too.) In a film that's super-glued to the actors' faces, it gives the movie some nice scope and scale and opens things up considerably. It's enough to make you wish for more abrasive jumps in time.

CON: It's Very Long With a nearly three-hour runtime (and no intermission where you can retreat to the concession stand), "Les Miserables" wears on you. There's only so much costumed, big-screen opulence you can take (in song), and after about the second hour, things start to drag (especially since one beloved cast member unceremoniously leaves). In a season where "Zero Dark Thirty," "The Hobbit," and "Django Unchained" flirt with the three-hour mark, this is by far the least amount of fun and the most laborious.
categories Movies