As a faithful rendering of a justly beloved musical, "Les Miserables" will more than satisfy the show's legions of fans. Even so, director Tom Hooper and the producers have taken a number of artistic liberties with this lavish bigscreen interpretation: 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. 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.
A gallery of stellar performers wages a Sisyphean battle against musical diahrrea and a laboriously repetitive visual approach in the big-screen version of the stage sensation Les Miserables… Director Tom Hooper has turned the theatrical extravaganza into something that is far less about the rigors of existence in early 19th century France than it is about actors emoting mightily and singing their guts out. As the enduring success of this property has shown, there are large, emotionally susceptible segments of the population ready to swallow this sort of thing, but that doesn't mean it's good.
Les Miserables is a five-star movie musical extravaganza that hums with the spirit of Victor Hugo's classic novel and the landmark stage show upon which it's based. But Tom Hooper, who already has an Oscar under his belt for The King's Speech, has crafted a work, both stunning and stirring, that holds its own in cinematic terms. His casting of Hugh Jackman, giving the screen performance of his career, as the unfairly pursued fugitive Jean Valjean is a masterstroke because Jackman anchors the film with aplomb.
With Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe starring - and singing - for director Tom Hooper, the highly anticipated Les Misérables is a bold sung-through adaptation of the massively popular stage musical that substitutes close-up intimacy and naturalism for theatrical scale and sheen. The approach could well divide audiences, with fans of the show and musical theatre in general falling heavily for the full-on emotion and non-fans finding it all a bit confusing and over the top.