I saw Les Miserables on the day after Christmas in a packed theater. I have seen the play once and am about 400 pages into the book (about which more later), and I found it really stunning. The nearly 3-hour movie went really quickly and was very moving to me in a way that movies rarely are.
I'm kind of baffled that the movie is getting somewhat mixed reviews, so I thought I'd take the criticisms one by one.
1.It's big and over the top and unsubtle. Well, yes. It's an opera. I know, I know, it's billed as a musical, but there's essentially no dialogue. Perhaps it says something about opera's sullied reputation that the most commercially successful opera maybe ever doesn't admit that it's an opera. But it is an opera, and most certainly operatic. If you're expecting a quiet character study, go hang out at your indie movie house for twenty minutes: one will be along shortly. Most criticisms of this kind amount to "I don't like the kind of thing that this is," which is the absolute worst kind of criticism.
2.The actors sang live while filming their scenes. I guess this is a matter of taste, but I thought this was an inspired choice. You can hear the actors breathing while they're singing if they're moving around, and it makes the songs feel more natural and organic than they otherwise would. It also makes Anne Hathaway's single-take close up rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" that much more impressive. I suppose some fans of the show (and whether you're adapting a stage show or a fantasy novel, you're just never going to please all the hardcore fans) were expecting definitive versions of the songs they love, and that's just not happening here. But this choice gives the songs greater impact than a perfect studio rendition.
3.Russell Crowe. Again, I think most of the criticism of Crowe's performance comes from fans of the show with certain expectations of how this role should be played. I thought Crowe's performance was fantastic. It's pretty easy to play Javert as a cartoonish villain, but I thought Crowe lent him complexity and depth. Yeah, he's not an amazing singer, but I think they cast this movie more for the acting than for the perfect singing voices. And he is a competent singer. People would have you believe he's like Lee Marvin in Paint Your Wagon, which he is most certainly not. I thought his performance made the character at least somewhat sympathetic, which makes both Valjean's eventual treatment of him and his reaction make more sense than if he's Snidely Whiplash.
4. Anne Hathaway is too thin. I agree that we should all be alarmed at Hollywood's pathological fear of curves, but she is playing a starving prostitute in this movie. She's gaunt, as she should be. I don't think we'd even be having this conversation about a male performer who lost all kinds of weight to play someone who is starving. Indeed, I think male actors are usually praised for this kind of thing.
So there you go. Great movie. Go see it.
Trying to read the unabridged Les Miserables. Am about 450 pages in, which means I only have a thousand pages to go. It's actually a relatively easy read (I'm reading the Signet paperback, which features a modernized translation), though I could have done without the 50-page digression on the battle of Waterloo, which is only important because Thenardier and Javert are there, but that scene could have been done without the 50-page thing about visiting the battle site years after the battle took place. And if you think the movie and show are heavy-handed, well, I've got several hundred authorial asides to show you...