LOOK, I LIKE LES MISÉRABLES. If it was playing at a reputable theater company in Portland this weekend? I would go see it! But good lord, the new movie is garbage. (Note: I'm gonna go ahead and assume everyone knows the plot to Les Miz—it is, after all, the thinking man's Phantom of the Opera. Amirite?!) [EDITOR'S NOTE: Alison assures me that was supposed to be "a joke," and that "theater kids" will "get it."—Ed.]
The big hook for director Tom Hooper's adaptation of the musical is that all of the actors did their singing live: That is, the vocals were recorded as the actors sang them in each scene, not added later as in most movie musicals.
Just to make sure nobody in the audience forgets about this fact, the film is packed with extreme closeups. This is a mistake. Les Miz plays great to a large theater, but the sung dialogue seems profoundly silly in intimate closeup—it's like Trapped in the Closet for white people who aren't in on the joke. These closeups pay off in only a few scenes, most notably when Anne Hathaway, as a fragile Fantine, kills it with a vulnerable "I Dreamed a Dream." The rest of the time, the giant-talking-heads motif is claustrophobic and distracting.
The singing and acting here is mostly fine, despite all the hullaballoo about the actors singing live. Surprisingly, it's Broadway vet Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean who botches his vocals a few times—a few lines are jarringly off-key. Russell Crowe acquits himself fairly well in the vocals department, though his Javert comes off as a little too emo in pivotal scenes.
I never thought I'd say this phrase, but the best parts of this movie are the montages. Any time the movie broadens its lens to encompass the whole of Paris, things start to get fun, and there are some enjoyable setpieces, like "Red and Black" performed by a pack of handsome young revolutionaries. Even with a few engaging crowd scenes, though, this movie is 400 hours long, and feels longer. Nothing is added in the transition to film—and quite a bit of spectacle and fun is lost.