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Review Roundup (12/19): LES MISERABLES Movie

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out NY: In Tom Hooper's powerhouse film version, Anne Hathaway, as the ruined Fantine, demolishes this number, live-singing a single, Falconetti-worthy take choked with pain and fierce regret. (You can only imagine the rioting on 45th Street had she been less than perfect.) Just for this small piece of movie magic, instantly iconic, the big-screen Les Miz is a triumph.

Luke Y. Thompson, Nerdist: From what I've gleaned of Les Miz peripherally, it seems like the Lord of the Rings of musicals - an epic play everybody's been waiting to see turned into a massive-budget cinematic magnum opus. And it has been, indeed. From the opening shots of a gigantic ship being towed into dock by slaves on ropes to its finale in the French revolution, this is not a movie that does things by half. Even in the smaller, intimate moments, the camera stays put on actors who sing their hearts out as they attempt (mostly with success) to make their voices and emotions the equal of all the special effects exploding all around. Yes, it's bombastic, unironic, and quite clearly expensive. If you can't accept that, it's not the movie for you. But if you can take in the film's operatic world as presented, you'll be taken on a ride well worth the assaults on your senses.

Karen D'Souza, Mercury News: And if you are in the mood for a good cry (or three!), rejoice. Your eyes may well be red for days after this relentless tear-jerker. Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech") stays very true to the muckraking spirit of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel, its harrowing denunciation of a society that oppresses the many to benefit the few.

Stephanie Zacharik, Film.com: Only Hathaway's defeated and demoralized tragic heroine Fantine, in the killer show-stopper tearjerker "I Dreamed a Dream," manages to claw her way toward anything resembling true emotion. Her features - the Paul Klee eyes, those pillowy cracked lips - are large enough to stand up to the hyperbombast that surrounds her.

Simon Reynolds, Digital Spy: For all Hooper's showy direction the film's standout sequence comes in one unbroken take, a close-up of the shaven-headed Fantine belting out 'I Dreamed a Dream' as her voice falters and tears stream. It's utterly heartbreaking, and you instantly feel like this is a moment that people will cite for the rest of her career. An Oscar nomination surely awaits.

Richard Corliss, Time: The problem is that Hooper extends the ploy far beyond its usefulness to virtually every aria. In Valjean's "Soliloquy" and "Who Am I?" the camera strenuously backpedals as Jackman strides toward it. His voice goes fortissimo with the songs' emotion, as if he needs to be heard by someone in the third balcony, yet he's nose to nose with the viewer. So many of the numbers in Les Miz have the impact of a stranger shouting in your face. That might be forgivable if the screen were of YouTube size, but this is for movie theaters

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: It's a daunting challenge, to be sure, to turn a big musical into a viable movie. For every great Cabaret, My Fair Lady, and The King and I, there's a dud Rent, Evita, and Mamma Mia! But this steam-driven military weapon of an enterprise is a sobering reminder of just how tinny a musical LES MISERABLES was in the first place - the listless music and lyrics by Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer, the derivative characters fashioned from Oliver! scraps.

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: Tom Hooper's extravaganza, big-screen telling of the beloved musical "Les Miserables" is as relentlessly driven as the ruthless Inspector Javert himself. It simply will not let up until you've Felt Something - powerfully and repeatedly - until you've touched the grime and smelled the squalor and cried a few tears of your own.

Nicole Christine, Independent: To say that Les Miserables is going to be a hit is putting it mildly. Unlike the opening night of Trevor Nunn's Barbican production, which produced poor reviews but staggering box office, this new production - which gives the characters of Jean Valjean, Fantine, Cosette a forever life - is going to go down in history for the way it tells a musical tale on the big screen.

Sydnee Watlow, Daily Mirror: Russell Crowe is a solid, uniformed presence as brooding baddie Javert while opposite hunk number Hugh Jackman is conflicted and formal (but not stuffy) as he smoulders as the heroic Jean Valjean - even after we are introduced to him in a prison camp. Anne Hathaway looked striking too - but her performance had even more impact. She is stunningly good as the tragic Fantine.

Drew, McWeeny, Hitflix: It's interesting to see very different performance styles up against each other in the film. Jackman, as I said, is at home here, and he gives a wonderful performance as Valjean. He plays the anger, the sorrow, the brief moments of joy, all with nuance and skill, and his voice is fantastic. Eddie Redmayne is probably the big revelation of the film, and he has a great singing voice as well. Seyfried is very pretty as Cosette, and she's got a sweet little trill of a voice, but as is often the case with "the love interest," she's very underwritten, and it's a tough role to make interesting. Samantha Barks actually fares better with her brief turn as Eponine, and much of the cast scores even in small moments. Perhaps the most controversial casting decision in the film was Russell Crowe, and it's true that he doesn't have the same sort of musical theater background as Jackman.

Scott Chitwood, ComingSoon: For those like me who don't regularly watch musicals, it does take a while to get used to everybody singing all of the time. There are no breaks here where characters deliver lines of dialogue. They sing every single line in the film. Fortunately the film is kicked off by Hugh Jackman and he sells it well. Jackman comes from a theatrical background, so he's in his element here. It doesn't take you long to roll with the musical thing. And the fact that they filmed the singing live on set and not with lip syncing to a pre-recorded track adds an interesting dimension to it. This is especially the case as they do long takes with all of the actors. The end result is something different yet interesting.

Grant Rollings, Sun Online: Because Tom Hooper has embraced the musical like no other director before. All the cast sang live on set, which produces an intensity of emotion missing in films such as Chicago. The moment Anne Hathaway's sunken yet angelic face fills the screen, as she sings I Dreamed A Dream with her voice cracking while it tastes a Mississippi sized tear, is one I won't forget.

Wesley Lovell, CinemaSight: Political statements aside, LES MISERABLES remains the crowd-pleasing sensation it was nearly thirty years ago. While the revolutionary aspect of the film is but a small aspect of the grander theme of atonement and redemption as part of Valjean's character development, there's no question that both play intimately well together and that the end result is a rowsing and celebratory experience. Not since the glory days of the movie musical in the 1950's and 1960's has a film so effectively captured an emotional zeitgeist. Easily comparable to the likes of West Side Story, The Sound of Music or Oliver!, LES MISERABLES is a musical for the ages. It's my personal favorite production from the last decade and will likely rank as one of my all-time favorites.

David Edelstein, NY Magazine: The tasteless bombardment that is LES MISERABLES would, under most circumstances, send audiences screaming from the theater, but the film is going to be a monster hit and award winner, and not entirely unjustly. After 30 or so of its 157 minutes, you build up a tolerance for those it's-alive-alive-alive! close-ups and begin to admire the ­gumption-along with the novelty of being worked over by such a big, shameless Broadway musical without having to pay Broadway prices. The authors (there are four credited screenwriters) have pared down Victor Hugo's great wallow of a novel to its dumb, pious moral (Christian forgiveness always wins, though you might not live to break out the Champagne), but the show has been audience-tested for decades and defiantly holds the screen, much like its French revolutionaries at the barricades.

Baz Bamigboye, Daily Mail: I've seen the film three times and each time the film seemed to grow in stature. I go to bed with the songs from Les Miserables ringing in my ears. I think of One More Day, Red and Black, Do you Hear the People Sing, Bring Him Home and Little People (by the way Daniel Huttlestone's Gavroche is very striking).

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: One of the chief interests of the film is discovering the singing abilities of the notable actors assembled here, other than Jackman, whose musical prowess is well known. Crowe, who early in his career starred in The Rocky Horror Show and other musicals onstage in Australia, has a fine, husky baritone, while Eddie Redmayne surprises with a singing voice of lovely clarity. Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean onstage in London and New York, turns up here as the benevolent Bishop of Digne.

Robbie Collin, Telegraph: LES MISERABLES is only Hooper's fourth feature, and his directorial style is still bedding in: some big, comic-book camera angles feel a touch over-egged, as does the extraordinarily shallow focus he uses in close-up. But he marshals the spectacle so spectacularly that it hardly matters. Hooper's screenwriter William Nicholson (Shadowlands) has judiciously tinkered with the song order, which makes LES MISERABLES feel not only definitive, but utterly cinematic. You leave with not one song in your heart, but ten.

Justin Chang, Variety: 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.

Jon Weisman, Variety: Best picture nominee? Fer sure. Best picture winner? Not necessarily, because while it is a film that soars in many places and is rock solid in others, "Les Miserables" also displays enough bumps and bruises to hurt it (and director Tom Hooper) in a close race. Some of the flaws I identified come from comparing it to the musical that I've held near and dear to my heart ever since I saw it Thanksgiving week 1987 in London - no doubt, a huge swath of Academy members have their own personal relationship with the film, and I find it a little hard to believe that they won't nitpick it.

Marlow Stern, Daily Beast: Nearly every number in Hooper's film is brilliantly performed, with other highlights including Jackman's rendition of "What Have I Done" following his silver theft, the camera skying upward to reveal a beautiful "eye of God" shot (a nifty trick repeated to equally thrilling effect several times throughout the film); the quodlibet "One Day More," with Hooper cutting to different members of the cast; and the heartbreaking ballad "On My Own," magnificently sung by Barks (who played the role on the West End). And of course, the revolutionary anthem "Do You Hear the People Sing" soars to the heavens.

Oliver Littelton, Indie Wire: Standing ovations and tear-stained handkerchiefs greeted showings on both coasts, along with a general consensus that the film is a triumphant screen version of the stage musical hit destined to be a big Oscar player. And while we wouldn't want to jump in until reviews officially drop next month, it's certainly the biggest threat to "Lincoln" at present, and might well turn out to be the big dog of the season.

Scott Feinberg, Hollywood Reporter: Whether or not the use of actors' live on-set singing (as opposed to re-recording it in post-production) actually enhances the believability of a film more than it compromises the quality of the music, audiences seem to have been sold on the former, thanks in large part to Universal's recent featurette about the practice. Moreover, any "first" makes for a great talking-point on the awards season campaign trail. (Incidentally, all of the musical numbers were also shot in close-up and uninterrupted takes.)

Steve Zeitchik, LA Times: There will be plenty of review takes later, so suffice to say that in-between the movie offers some rousing emotion and vivid set pieces, uneven pacing and the sight of Russell Crowe singing. (He's fine as the law-enforcing Javert but, like Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean and the other males in the cast, pales next to the women, Amanda Seyfried's Cosette and particularly Anne Hathaway's Fantine, whose single-take, close-up "I Dreamed a Dream" is bound to bring down multiplexes and land her on Oscar ballots.) Other Kleenex-producing musical numbers include the large-scale "Do You Hear The People Sing?," offered in reprise later in the film. (Samantha Barks' "On My Own" did not have the same effect on this reporter; others may disagree.)

Mike Ryan, Huffington Post: I will say, as a complete novice to the world of Les Miz (I've decided to go with Les Miz, by the way), I thought the film was wonderful and found myself momentarily confused only a handful of times. (This is arguably my fault for being easily confusable.) My personal favorite movie this year is still Argo, but after seeing Les Miz, my gut is telling me that it will beat both Argo and Lincoln for Best Picture. And the talk you may or may not have heard about Anne Hathaway being a shoo-in for Best Supporting Actress as Fantine is true. (Though, again, not knowing anything about Les Miz, I was honestly shocked by how little she is in this movie.)

Tom O'Neil, Gold Derby: Reviews are embargoed until Dec. 11 so it's tricky to discuss the film, but here goes. The audience flipped for it. It's (nearly) everything that "Les Miz" nuts hoped for. Eddie Redmayne is the big surprise. His performance wows and, yikes, who knew he could sing like that? Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter try to steal the film -- and the contents of every pocket in 19th-century Paris. But Carter can't win. Anne Hathaway has Best Supporting Actress in the bag and Hugh Jackman poses a serious threat to Daniel Day-Lewis' dominion over Best Actor.

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