Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables
lives up to its name. With the exception of about 10 minutes, the nearly three-hour film is an endless wallow in the fields of squalor, filth, chancre and herpes. Derived from Victor Hugo’s humanitarian novel, already a doorstop weepie, Les Miz
is in musical form a bathetic pressure washer loaded with human tears. In Hooper’s (The King’s Speech
) loose directorial grip, this water cannon jerks itself around as in an old Looney Tunes cartoon, spraying the world with salty liquid. As the saintly thief-gone-noble Jean Valjean pursued by the relentless Javert (Russell Crowe) through the streets of 19th-century France, Hugh Jackman is a terrifically convincing physical presence. But he is hobbled by Hooper’s decision to have the actors sing every line. Jackman is more a song-and-dance man than a balladeer, and his trilling over-enunciation bleeds his character of any possible nuance. Crowe, likewise, sounds less like a punctilious follower of the law than a bar-band bellower who needs a drink. Despite some expensive-looking overhead shots of degraded French life, Hooper’s epic film is centered doggedly on the suffering found in a human face. In the case of Anne Hathaway as the dying prostitute Fantine, this is a wise decision. She becomes a Jeanne D’Arc figure, ruined and beatific, sobbingly and haltingly wresting “I Dreamed a Dream” from Susan Boyle with the imperfections of her rendition. Les Miz
is, more than anything, painfully obvious Oscar bait. In shooting relentlessly for a statuette, Hooper makes all of humanity into much the same thing: heavy and small, shining on the surface but just plain dead on the inside.