“Les Miserables” will likely be the most polarizing film of the holiday season.
The latest big-screen adaptation of the immensely popular Broadway musical will surely satisfy its huge fan base. It is also sure to draw a lot of ire from its detractors.
I think both sides are correct, with the result somewhere in the middle.
For those unfamiliar with the story, “Les Miserables” is set in 19th century post-revolutionary France – a sweeping epic that centers on Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and policeman Javert (Russell Crowe).
The story begins with Valjean released from prison after a 20-year sentence. He chooses to break parole and create a new life for himself. Valjean is constantly evading the pursuit of Javert, a task that becomes more difficult when Valjean takes in Cosette – the daughter of a widowed factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway).
These are just a few of the faces intertwined throughout the story, with themes of love, death, second chances and forgiveness prevalent throughout.
It’s all brought to life in a series of songs that have an operatic quality to them – a style that is sure to frustrate some (especially with a 150-minute running time).
Director Tom Hooper stays faithful to the Broadway adaptation, and for the most part it works. I was taken aback by the decision not to shoot the film in a wide-screen format – a visual style that feels well-suited for an epic like this. The pacing is somewhat uneven as well, but that comes with the highs and lows of the musical numbers.
The cast is very good, with Hathaway getting advance buzz as a potential Academy Award front-runner for best supporting actress. She does get the show stopper musical number and the showy exit, but it’s just not quite the tour de force one might expect.
I actually prefer Crowe’s surprisingly effective crooning or the comic relief from Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as shady innkeepers (“Master of the House” remains my favorite number on both stage and screen).
For me, those are the moments when “Les Miserables” the film is at its best. It’s enough to recommend – especially for fans of the musical and lovers of the genre. But it’s not quite the award season’s epic it aspires to be.
Also in theaters
Another award season hopeful making its way to theaters is “Django Unchained” (A-). The latest from writer/director Quentin Tarantino is a bloodthirsty bit of revisionist history – a spaghetti western set in the Civil War era that melds blood-splattering violence with biting social satire.
Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a slave freed by a former German dentist turned bounty hunter named King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).
Schultz agrees to help and train Django and make him his partner in exchange for information on his latest bounty. This act sets in motion a partnership that culminates with Schultz agreeing to help Django get back his wife, now owned by a ruthless Mississippi plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Like “Inglorious Basterds,” this is a film that takes a preconceived genre (in this case the western) and runs it through the Tarantino grindhouse. This is a film full of rich dialogue and memorable performances – a blend of high-octane bloodshed with very dark and twisted humor.
Waltz is nearly as good here as he was in “Basterds” – providing “Django” with the true heart and soul of the film.
Foxx hits the right notes as Django, while DiCaprio is clearly having fun playing way against type.
Just when it looks like “Django Unchained” might be losing a little steam, Samuel L. Jackson arrives as Candie’s loyal servant, who may not be everything he seems. Jackson’s work is Oscar level, with so many layers in the performance, but I’m certain it’s a little too non-PC for the voters’ tastes.
I’ll concede that “Django Unchained” kind of flattens out in the final half hour for reasons best left spoiler-free. It’s a minor complaint, however, for a strong contender as one of the 10 best films of 2012.
“Django Unchained” is rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity, and is now playing at the Greenwood Mall 10 and Highland Cinemas in Glasgow.