Les Miserables 3½/4 – a movie review by James Berardinelli

December 30, 2012 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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Les Miserables, believed by some to be the best novel ever penned in French, has been adapted in nearly every form imaginable, including dozens of movies, television mini-series in French and English, loose “thematic reworkings,” and comic books…writes James Berardinelli.

But Victor Hugo’s epic historical drama is perhaps best known for its musical version, which opened in the West End in 1985 and bowed on Broadway two years later. A motion picture interpretation of this lavish production has been in the works since the early 1990s but, as it churned in development hell, no less than three major non-musical adaptations of Les Miserables were made – Claude Lelouch’s remarkable 1995 re-imagination, a major 1998 English-language version directed by Bille August and starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush, and a celebrated 2000 French mini-series featuring Gerard Depardieu and John Malkovich. The musical motion picture finally gained traction in 2011 when The King’s Speech’s director, Tom Hooper, came on board. Now, twenty years after the earliest attempts to make the movie, it has reached the screen.

Fans of the stage version will not be disappointed. While successfully “opening up” the musical far beyond the limitations of a theater-bound production, Hooper retains its heart and soul. In many ways, the movie is more opera than musical. There’s very little dancing and even less spoken dialogue. Most of the lines are sung recitative-style and the arias often focus in close-up on the singer’s face. Les Miserables understandably cuts some of the stage production’s numbers, but all of the major anthems are intact and wonderfully presented. There is one new song, included in large part for Oscar eligibility.

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