Les Miserables (PG-13) I’m pretty sure this is a stage production that’s almost impossible to turn into a movie with the same power. And I’m damned sure that if there was a way to accomplish that task, this isn’t it. That much is clear almost from director Tom Hooper’s opening shot, which sweeps down from the sky into the French shipyards circa 1815 where Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is working off his 19-year sentence for stealing a loaf of bread, under the watchful eye of the relentless Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Les Mis, fundamentally, is opera: emotions writ large, combined with stagecraft, meant to be absorbed while taking in the entirety of the scene. And there are moments when Hooper shows he understands how to bring this emotion to the surface. It’s there when Anne Hathaway’s Fantine tears into her show-stopping aria “I Dreamed a Dream,” a single-take performance that’s riveting in its focused intensity. But there’s no similar way to handle scenes in which a single voice isn’t the center of attention. A different problem plagues the casting of Crowe as Javert, whose decades-long pursuit of Valjean, and his insistence that a criminal cannot be rehabilitated, provide the story’s central conflict. It’s not, however, the problem that will be most often expressed — that his voice, despite being frontman for a band, isn’t up to the task. While he’s certainly not the baritone belter most commonly associated with the role, it’s more damaging that Crowe doesn’t seem to understand how to act musical theater of this kind. At the end of the day, Tom Hooper doesn’t realize that live singing on a movie set isn’t enough to re-create the majestic Les Misérables experience — not when so many of the people involved insist on turning it into … well, a movie.
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