Often these days prominent filmmakers decide to tell a story already told. Sometimes even a story told multiple times. Whether it's for a lack of ideas or because of their love of the subject and confidence they can make something special out of it is debatable, but whatever the reason the expectations from such endeavour are always high. That was also the case with the latest of that kind, Tom Hooper's Oscar hopeful "Les Misérables".
Adapted from a famous musical play which was in turn based on the novel by Victor Hugo (both having the same name as the film), the film retains the musical form and does it in an unusual way, with actors singing and recorded live during the shooting. It makes for a somewhat uneven experience due to the difference in actors' vocal capabilities and dependance on the conditions at given time. While the acting is solid across the board, more famous names like Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Sacha Baron Cohen or Helena Bonham Carter do mostly mediocre work singing-wise. Fortunately the young ones: Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit and Daniel Huttlestone, save the day with some great singing. And then there's Anne Hathaway with the performance which there's no sense in writing about but really just has to be seen.
Technically the film is very good but has some minuses. Production design, cinematography, and editing while generally good make some scenes, especially those with the barricade, feel staged. That's probably the legacy of the play, which doesn't work as well in the film. That applies to parts of the story and some of the songs too. I don't know to what extent Hooper and the screenwriting team (in which there were the authors of the play among others) stuck to the play but the theatricality is sometimes too apparent. Costume design on the other hand, as well as makeup and hairstyling, is as great as you would expect from a high budget period piece like this.
As far as the story is concerned, there's little done to escape from its predictability. I imagine the screenwriters didn't want to steer too much from the source material, but they even didn't have to. A lot would be accomplished with just a little different balance of the themes. The revolution part of the story is left underdeveloped in spite of some striking scenes while too much time is spent on Jean Valjean's lamentations and a sense of thematic connection between the two is, I feel, not properly addressed. Also the relationship between Javert and Valjean is shown mainly as one between the hunter and the hunted while there's much more to it. For example, Valjean as the symbol of change is locked in the seemingly endless battle against Javert as the man who can't break from his own constraints. However, the end comes and Valjean emerges victorious, showcasing that a change will come despite of presently suppressed revolution. All of that and probably more is present in the subtext but Hooper unfortunately failed to put any emphasis on it.
While the singing presents the story without any difficulties and make for some truly rousing scenes, its occasional lengthiness slows the film down making it unbalanced and overlong. In addition to a couple of overly pompous scenes, that degrades "Les Misérables" turning it into a good movie instead of a great one it could have been. It's a shame, but it is what it is. At least we can hear the people sing.