Monday, December 24, 2012

Review - Les Miserables

Let's just get it out of the way, Anne Hathaway is the main reason to see Les Miserables. More importantly she is the only reason to love the movie. Her performance is emotional, pierces your heart deeply and might well up the tears. She doesn't shy away from going big with the emotion ; it is a musical after all. It's exactly the kind of performance people who love musicals are looking for. She delivers.

Now I wish the rest the movie delivered as well as Hathaway did. It had all the elements : the beloved musical full of big numbers known the world over, an acclaimed director (Tom Hooper) coming off a big Oscar win; fantastic cast led by musical theater vet Hugh Jackman. The movie has a lot of virtues but it is not the fantastic musical it promised to be.

The movie starts strong, bringing chills and flutters as you hear that bombastic store and the camera pans over the huge shipyard and comes to pinpoint Jean Valjean (Jackman) and Javert (Russell Crowe) the hero and antagonist of the piece. Brilliant set up from Hooper, and he carries these panoramic views that open the action to some of the set pieces giving them epic grandeur. Curiously the only songs he shoots this way are Crowe's. All the others are shot in extreme close up. I get that he wanted to differentiate the movie from the play by highlighting the actors emotional work, but it doesn't work for every number. It works with Hathaway's ''I Dreamed A Dream'' since that song is about Fantine being at the end of the rope and feeling hopeless, trapped and alone so the the claustrophobia works. But why shoot Eddie Redmayne's ''Empty Chairs at Empty Tables'' this way when it's a song about Marius looking at where he and his friends used to sit and argue? Literally why not show the empty chairs and empty tables instead of just Redmayne's bee stung lips?

Jackman and Hathaway

Jackman carries this and as he goes so does the movie. He brings a tenderness and fragility to the performance that makes it endearing. However his singing came off flat. He did not accomplish full lift off with the emotion. "Bring Him Home", his big number, particularly suffers from this. I hardly noticed it. His duet with Hathaway in "Finale'' though is amazing and made me wish there was more of the two of them together.

Samantha Barks, the newcomer and only member of the cast to have played her role on stage, sings beautifully. However she does not have much screen presence making Eponine forgettable despite her screen time. Amanda Seyfried does the best she could with the thankless role of Cosette but does not have any chemistry with Redmayne. The fault is not theirs but the plot's since we are supposed to take for granted that they fall deep in love on first sight and that love is supposed to carry the second half of the movie. Redmayne on the other hand was my big revelation from the movie. He has a great voice and gives it his all , faring well particularly in his scenes with his revolutionary comrades. The less said about Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter the better. They stuck out with their very broad characterizations that didn't belong in this movie. Was this what Hooper intended? Bonham Carter is the major offender with her atrocious singing and Tim Burton make up.

Crowe and Jackman

Crowe was another major surprise. That he brings pathos and gravitas to his villain are no surprise. But who knew he could belt out with such gusto making us completely understand his conflicted righteous character. I think the dismissive chatter about his performance is because he does not do well with the sung dialogue, his voice comes out as off tune in those instances. However he completely sold his two big numbers.

If you are a fan of the musical you will love this movie version. However if you are unfamiliar with it, you might go ''huh?"' several times. There are plot gaps as they had to get the movie in under three hours. The rebellion is front and center then forgotten, the jump between the years is sometimes jarring and might confuse some. The never ending close ups might give you vertigo.  However there is enough emotion to carry you through.

1 comment:

Candice Frederick said...

how interesting. i thought crowe was good for the part, if it had no music with it. his performance to music was just buried, sadly. i thought barks was exquisite in this role, and i couldn't stop thinking about her performance long after i saw the film. it was brief but poignant and she did it well. hathaway was great as well, but i also though jackman was awesome. the editing could have used much work though.