Les Misérables has everything anyone could want in a movie. But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
It may escape general notice, but this bright, shiny toy of a new film will someday mark when big-budget musicals became as bloated, garish and effects-laden as the latest superhero saga.
But fortunately for Les Misérables, the heavy-duty extras work mostly in favor of this kind of music hall kitsch, even if they sometimes threaten to dwarf the narrative based on Victor Hugo’s epic five-volume novel.
Hugh Jackman takes the lead role as the persecuted Jean Valjean, but it is the technical wizards who steal the show from the condensed narrative and the mostly bland musical numbers.
Eve Stewart’s production designs and Anna Lynch-Robinson’s set decorations blend with Richard Bain’s special effects to recreate a richly colorful early 19th-century Paris, complete with its towering walls and flowing sewers. Danny Cohen’s imaginative cinematography captures both the lovely and the depraved, often in skewed angles rife with meaning.
Jackman sings his own songs and again shows his versatility as the wanted man doggedly pursued for many years by Inspector Javert (the ever-scowling Russell Crowe), all while Valjean cares for a seemingly abandoned child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a child, and Amanda Seyfried as an adult). Anne Hathaway persuasively plays Fantine, the street-wise mother who loses her Cosette.
Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) follows the script from an army of writers who follow the stage musical yet craft an original film.
This adherence means the actors sing most of the dialogue with little spoken. This also means musical numbers from lesser meistersingers like Crowe and Sacha Baron Cohen, whose comic presence awkwardly stands outside the film’s somber mien.
Hooper dutifully moves along a succession of impressive sequences, most of which will entertain if not enthrall.
Rated PG-13, 157 minutes.