Les Miserables: 3 (out of 10)
Hollywood actors are not necessarily good stage actors, nor vice versa. This simple observation is the heart of the problems with the flawed film adaptation of Les Miserables, itself a Broadway adaptation of Victor Hugo's 19th century novel. No matter how well-developed and textured the characters may be in print or song, all is lost if the actors cannot portray the characters successfully. And in this adaptation, the actors were decidedly not up to the task, simply because they are Hollywood actors, and cast as such. But this story needs to be told a Broadway spectacle; thus, the movie is a failure.
To be fair, there are bright spots. Anne Hathaway in particular does an amazing job in both acting categories, working simultaneously as a superb Hollywood actress and an accomplished voice; her Oscar nomination is well-earned. Many of the relatively-minor actors have a Broadway pedigree, which shows through; and many cast members are adequate-but- forgettable, including Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. And even Hugh Jackman, who I found passable but working outside of his vocal range, was at least trained for the stage.
All of this is ruined by Russell Crowe. Crowe seems to have been chosen because he is a well-established action-hero type, with a strong presence and huge star power. Unfortunately, he doesn't appear to be able to sing with the same power that he brings to his Hollywood acting. His character is understated where he should be bombastic, confused where he should be threatening, and above all quiet when he should be belting out his lyrics. The direction and green screen effects surrounding him just draw attention to these problems. Crowe's solos are embarrassing, and when he shares the stage with others he drags the others down with him.
Mind, the casting wasn't the only major problem; also worrisome was the pacing. The play is (unsurprisingly) divided into two Acts; the movie spends its first ~70 minutes (out of ~150) focusing entirely on the first half of Act I. We don't even meet the background-storyline protagonists of the film until nearly half-way through the movie, and by that time I was too bored to care! The rest of the story is then compressed to fit into the available time, with songs cut and characters under-developed. Thus the story is butchered.
And then there's the spectacle, or lack thereof. Part of the draw of the stage version are the choreography and spectacular stagecraft; but the film does not translate this into anything particularly inventive or interesting, and settles for a direct adaptation. It was a missed opportunity, and I was hugely disappointed.
My wife, a fan of the play and its soundtrack, insists that I would still like the play. I have to admit, though, that I came out of the movie uninterested in seeing the play at all. That can't be a good thing. But at least I'm tempted to read the novel.
Rating: 3 (out of 10)