The Hollywood adaptation of the 1980 musical Les Misérables (earlier adapted for the London and New York stages) opened wide on Christmas Day, but it had already received considerable Oscar buzz and garnered a collection of Golden Globe nominations. What did the critics think, though? Below is a sampling of reviews, which are generally favorable, with special recognition going to Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne. For the record, the creative team includes William Nicholson (screenplay), Alain Boublil (book, original text), Claude-Michel Schoenberg (book, music), Victor Hugo (novel), Herbert Kretzmer (lyrics), Jean-Marc Natel (original text), James Fenton (addl. text), Tom Hooper (direction), Danny Cohen (cinematography), Melanie Ann Oliver, Chris Dickens (editing), Eve Stewart (production design), Grant Armstrong (art direction), Anna Lynch-Robinson (set decoration), Paco Delgado (costumes), Lia Westcott (hair, makeup), Dominic Gibbs (sound), Mark Holt (special effects), Richard Bain (visual effects), Liam Steel (choreography), Paul Herbert (stunts), Anne Dudley (addl. music, orchestrations), Stephen Metcalfe (orchestrations), and Stephen Brooker (music direction). The cast includes Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Helena Bonham Carter (Mme. Thenardier), Sacha Baron Cohen (Thenardier), Samantha Barks (Eponine), and Aaron Tveit (Enjolras).
Justin Chang (Variety): The squalor and upheaval of early 19th-century France are conveyed with a vividness that would have made Victor Hugo proud. … Yet for all its expected highs, the adaptation has been managed with more gusto than grace. … Hathaway’s turn is brief but galvanic. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” captured in a single take, represents the picture’s high point. … As the characters’ voices and stories converge in the magisterial medley “One Day More,” the frequent crosscutting provides a reasonable visual equivalent of the nimble revolving sets used onstage. … Devotees of the stage show will nonetheless be largely contented to see it realized on such an enormous scale and inhabited by well-known actors who also happen to possess strong vocal chops. The revelation here is Redmayne, who brings a youthful spark to the potentially milquetoast role of Marius, and who reveals an exceptionally smooth, full-bodied singing voice, particularly in his mournful solo “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.”
Joe Morgenstern (Wall St. Journal): This Les Mis does make you feel, intensely and sometimes thrillingly, by honoring the emotional core of its source material. The director, Tom Hooper, has shot almost all of the singing live, rather than pre-recorded as in conventional movie musicals; the difference is startling. … Hathaway is the show-stopper in “I Dreamed a Dream.” … Redmayne is the big surprise; a dramatic dynamo, he turns “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables,” that anthem of anguishing loss, into a showcase for sung passion. … The voices may not be memorably great, but the real-time singing communicates a special energy that we can savor from what amounts to front-row center seats for every intimate number.
Claudia Puig (USA Today): Les Misérables is sweeping, as would be expected given the scope of the hugely popular stage musical from which it is adapted. But it’s also wonderfully intimate, thanks to Tom Hooper’s deft direction. … Both Hathaway and Jackman strike perfect notes in their performances. … Eddie Redmayne is a revelation as the idealistic rebel Marius. … The singing is often appropriately raw (particularly in Fantine’s dying scene), which intensifies already poignant performances. … Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is a tear-jerker if ever there was one. For a 2½-hour movie, it’s surprisingly well-paced and consistently enthralling. The look of the film is gorgeous, but Les Mis is a success primarily because of its superlative musical performances.
Peter Travers (Rolling Stone): The singing isn’t slick. It sometimes sounds raw and roughed up, which is all to the good. It sure as hell brings out the best in the actors. A never-better Hugh Jackman stars as Jean Valjean. … A dynamite Hathaway shatters every heart when she sings how “life has killed the dream I dreamed.” Her volcanic performance has Oscar written all over it. … Redmayne also deserves a piece of the awards pie for the soulful ache he brings to the love story and his lost brothers (“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”). Besides being a feast for the eyes and ears, Les Misérables overflows with humor, heartbreak, rousing action and ravishing romance. Damn the imperfections, it’s perfectly marvelous.
Kenneth Turan (L.A. Times): If unashamed, operatic-sized sentiments are not your style, this Les Miz is not going to make you happy. … This production is visual to the max, with an epic physical scale and grandeur the play couldn’t possibly have. The second strategy employed was to sign the best, most convincing actors. … Anne Hathaway, who plays Fantine, does such a knockout rendition of the showstopper “I Dreamed a Dream.” … Because it is so shameless and so popular, Les Misérables and its “to love another person is to see the face of God” theme are tailor-made for mockery. But despite its pitfalls, this movie musical is a clutch player that delivers an emotional wallop when it counts. You can walk into the theater as an agnostic, but you may just leave singing with the choir.