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'Les Miserables' Review Round-Up; Detractors Could Hurt Musical's Oscar Bid

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 26, 2012 at 4:08PM

Christmas Day saw two new openings of award-season contenders, "Les Miserables" and "Django Unchained." (We will parse their box office on Thursday.) But judging from social media chatter as well as reviews, it is clear that Tom Hooper's approach to the musical may be too radical for many moviegoers.
Russell Crowe Les Mis

David Edelstein, New York Magazine

The tasteless bombardment that is Les Misérables would, under most circumstances, send audiences screaming from the theater, but the film is going to be a monster hit and award winner, and not entirely unjustly. After 30 or so of its 157 minutes, you build up a tolerance for those it’s-alive-alive-alive! close-ups and begin to admire the ­gumption—along with the novelty of being worked over by such a big, shameless Broadway musical without having to pay Broadway prices.

Claudia Puig, USA Today

Hooper (The King's Speech) was a perfect match for the material, making exquisite use of a much bigger stage and impeccable production design for a wonderfully epic effect, juxtaposed with stirring tight close-ups.

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

A gallery of stellar performers wages a Sisyphean battle against musical diarrhea and a laboriously repetitive visual approach in the big-screen version of the stage sensation Les Miserables… With Hooper's undoubted encouragement, the eager thespians give it their all here, for better and for worse.

Justin Chang, Variety

Yet for all its expected highs, the adaptation has been managed with more gusto than grace; at the end of the day, this impassioned epic too often topples beneath the weight of its own grandiosity…  The squalor and upheaval of early 19th-century France are conveyed with a vividness that would have made Victor Hugo proud, heightened by the raw, hungry intensity of the actors' live oncamera vocals.

Ian Buckwalter, NPR

Part of the success of the performances in the film owes greatly to Hooper's decision to record the actors singing on set, rather than have them lip-sync to pre-recorded tracks, the usual method for filming musicals. The technique works exactly as intended: The actors, freed from having to match a vocal performance from weeks or months prior, are able to live in the moment. The impact on the emotional immediacy of the songs is striking.

Christopher Orr, The Atlantic

I dreamed a dream in time gone by, in time gone by so very...slowly.
Largely faithful to the stage version, Hooper's Les Miz is an extravagant melodrama, at once openly ambitious and almost touchingly earnest… Hooper has taken the innovative step of having cast members sing their numbers live on film, rather than lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks. It's a genuine breakthrough: As the performers lift their voices, the camera holds them in intimate closeup; the experience is about as close to live theater you're likely to find onscreen.

This article is related to: Les Miserables, Tom Hooper, Tom Hooper, Reviews, Reviews, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Musical, Awards, Awards, Oscars

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.