Review: Hooper's 'Les Miserables' is relentless
This film image released by Universal Pictures shows actress Anne Hathaway portraying Fantine, a struggling, sickly mother forced into prostitution in 1800s Paris, in a scene from the screen adaptation of "Les Miserables." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Laurie Sparham)
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.
It is enormous and sprawling and not the slightest bit subtle. But at the same time it's hard not to admire the ambition that drives such an approach, as well as Hooper's efforts to combine a rousing, old-fashioned musical tale with contemporary and immediate aesthetics. There's a lot of hand-held camerawork here, a lot of rushing and swooping through the crowded, volatile slums of Victor Hugo's 19th-century France.
This film image released by Universal Pictures shows Anne Hathaway as Fantine in a scene from "Les Miserables." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)
Two years after the release of his inspiring, crowd-pleasing "The King's Speech," winner of four Academy Awards including best picture, Hooper has vastly expanded his scope but also jettisoned all remnants of restraint.
But he also does something clever in asking his actors sing live on camera, rather than having them record their vocals in a booth somewhere as is the norm, and for shooting the big numbers in single takes. The intimacy can be uncomfortable at times and that closeness highlights self-indulgent tendencies, but the meaning behind lyrics which have become so well-known shines through anew. You'd probably heard "I Dreamed a Dream," the plaintive ballad of the doomed prostitute Fantine, sung countless times even before Susan Boyle unfortunately popularized it again in 2009. An emaciated and shorn Anne Hathaway finds fresh pain and regret in those words because her rendition is choked with sobs, because it's not perfect.