BY MICHAEL WALTERS
THE CANTANKEROUS CRITIC
“Les Miserables” is a three-legged dog with only one good leg. Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway form the emotional and dramatic center, but only Jackman has the chops for this overly bombastic, in-your-face adaptation of the blockbuster musical juggernaut.
Director Tom Hooper films nearly every song in extreme close-up, giving audiences a dental hygienist’s view of the actors’ tonsils in the process. Hathaway puts her overacting into overdrive while singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” with the camera so close it’s practically up her nose. She looks and sounds like a woman with her eyes on Oscar. But the only thing she proves is that not even she can ruin a warhorse tune like that one.
I’ve always found Jean Valjean to be a little whiny at times, but that’s the last word I’d use for Hugh Jackman’s powerful portrayal. The same can’t be said for Russell Crowe’s Javert. He’s supposed to be the menacing and imposing embodiment of cold, hard justice. His relentless pursuit of Jean Valjean is supposed to be the engine that drives the story forward. But Crowe plays him as such a tortured soul he looks like he may burst into tears at any moment. And his voice is about an octave or two too high. He sounds like a member of The Goo Goo Dolls.
Hooper does a good job of expanding the musical’s world, so it feels like a real movie, not just a stage play transferred to the screen. There are also elements of Hollywood fakery running through it like the sewers of Paris — from the curiously well-scrubbed revolutionaries who all look like they stepped straight out of a salon, to the curiously crystal clear water the prisoners are supposed to be wallowing in while Jean Valjean is in chains at the beginning of the film. The dirt and grime of 18th-century France seem meticulously applied by a team of makeup and prop men.
Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide the comic relief with the earworm “Master of the House” and don’t embarrass themselves. But Amanda Seyfried shouldn’t be allowed near a microphone, a piece of sheet music or an orchestra. Her voice sounds like Elmer Fudd on a juicer with an annoying trill that may make you want to stick knitting needles in your ears if only to stop the horror.
But again, those songs are remarkably durable, even though some have them have been truncated or rearranged. And Jackman pretty much singlehandedly lifts the film upon his muscular shoulders and charges forward with a voice that signifies everything the movie should be. If this is your first introduction to the musical, it won’t make you run from the theater screaming. The songs still sell themselves no matter how they’re sung. And you might be inspired to see the real thing full of people who can really sing.