Les Miserables draws mixed world reviews

The lavish musical Les Miserables, one of the favourites to win best picture at the Academy Awards, has drawn early reviews that range from "a five-star musical extravaganza" to "a battle against musical diarrhoea".

Director Tom Hooper's first film since The King's Speech is based on Victor Hugo's famous novel set in 19th-century France, which became a hugely successful stage musical.

It has Russell Crowe as the brutal Inspector Javert, Hugh Jackman as the reformed thief Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway as the doomed single mother Fantine.

While Australian reviews are embargoed until next week, the Hollywood trade papers, influential among Oscar voters, gave mixed to downbeat reviews about one of the holiday season's big movies.

The Hollywood Reporter said the stellar cast wages "a Sisyphean battle against musical diarrhoea and a laboriously repetitive visual approach".

"Hooper has turned the theatrical extravaganza into something that is far less about the rigours of existence in early 19th-century France than it is about actors emoting mightily and singing their guts out," wrote Todd McCarthy. "As the enduring success of this property has shown, there are large, emotionally susceptible segments of the population ready to swallow this sort of thing, but that doesn't mean it's good."

McCarthy noted that Les Miserables was entirely sung, more like an opera than a traditional stage musical.

"Although not terrible, the music soon begins to slur together to the point where you'd be willing to pay the ticket price all over again just to hear a nice, pithy dialogue exchange between Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe rather than another noble song that sounds a lot like one you just heard a few minutes earlier."

Variety called Les Miserables a faithful rendering of a justly beloved musical that will more than satisfy the show's many fans.

"The squalor and upheaval of early 19th-century France are conveyed with a vividness that would have made Victor Hugo proud, heightened by the raw, hungry intensity of the actors' live-on-camera vocals," wrote Justin Chang.

"Yet for all its expected highs, the adaptation has been managed with more gusto than grace; at the end of the day, this impassioned epic too often topples beneath the weight of its own grandiosity."

Describing Hathaway's singing of I Dreamed a Dream the movie's high point, Chang had a mixed reaction to Jackman and Crowe's performances.

"Jackman's extensive legit resume made him no-brainer casting for Valjean, and he embodies this sinner-turned-saint with the requisite fire and gravitas," he wrote. "Whether he's comforting the dying Fantine or sweetly serenading the sleeping Cosette (in the moving Suddenly, a song written expressly for the screen), Jackman projects a stirring warmth and nobility.

"He's less at home with the higher register of Valjean's daunting two-octave range; there's more strain than soul in his performance of Bring Him Home, usually one of the show's peak moments.

"Crowe reveals a thinner, less forceful singing voice than those of his co-stars, robbing the morally blinkered Javert of some dramatic stature, although his screen presence compensates."

There was higher praise for the movie from the English press, however.

"Les Miserables is a five-star movie musical extravaganza that hums with the spirit of Victor Hugo's classic novel and the landmark stage show upon which it's based," wrote The Daily Mail's Baz Bamigboye.

The Telegraph's Robbie Collin called it "a heart-soaring, crowd-delighting hit-in-waiting: the Mamma Mia it's all right to like". He added that everything about the movie was enormous "from Claude-Michel Schönberg's cannon-fire score to its bladder-twitching two-hour, 40-minute running time. Every last frame is rocket-launched at the back row of the cinema."

The Independent's Nicola Christie said the performances were raw, real and devastating and said Hooper had "reinvented the movie musical and created a whole new generation of Les Mis lovers".

The Guardian's Catherine Shoard praised Hooper's handling of the grand canvas.

"Your temples throb at the logistics of those final scenes; all extras and horses, flags and canons, not to mention that elephant and castle."

But Shoard added that sitting through the movie "can feel less like an awards bash than an epic wake, at which the band is always playing and the women are forever wailing. By the end, you feel like a piñata on the dancefloor: empty, in bits, the victim of prolonged assault by killer pipes."

Hooper has told New York Magazine he was delighted with the response by the cast, crew and media after the first screening in New York late last month.

"The scene where Hugh Jackman storms out of the church and tears up his passport, throwing it to the winds, that got applause 10 minutes into the film," he said. "And then there was applause 12 to 14 more times during the film, which I've never experienced.

"With The King's Speech, people would clap once he (Colin Firth) successfully made the big speech at the end, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, how surreal.' So this was just insane."

Hooper admitted one of the best parts was receiving kind praise from Gladiator star Crowe: "He was so warm about it and so happy. He kept saying, 'It's so epic, Tom,' and I was thinking, 'Bloody hell, Russell, you've done some epic films in your life!' So for Russell to say it was really epic, I felt very pleased about."

Les Miserables opens in Australia on Boxing Day.

With WENN

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