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“Les Miserables” movie is stunning, emotional, and divisive (Review) December 27, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, Movies, musical theater, Musicals.
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Do you hear the people sing? Do you scour all the movie reviews to decide if you want to see a movie or not? Do you trust your Facebook friends and their opinions? It seems everyone has an opinion on “Les Miserables”, the movie adaptation of the long-running stage musical. I, among many, just loved it.

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Arriving nearly intact from its stage incarnation, its a good adaptation of the musical, and almost every change made is helpful.  A few of the songs have been re-ordered to give them more flow in a movie setting, and a few lyrics have been changed, along with two all-new recitatives that catapult several short scenes into one There is also one new song, “Suddenly”, added for your consideration, Academy (since songs from another medium are not eligible).

Hugh Jackman is a convincing Jean Valjean, and delivers the money songs at full voice. There’s little subtlety in his performance, but it fits the style of this production. Sure, Alfie Boe would have sung a far superior “Bring Him Home”, but Alfie Boe would not have sold 18.5 million dollars worth of tickets in the first day. Russell Crowe, much maligned as Inspector Javert, actually turns in a very decent performance — having seen the stage production in London, NYC, and various tours probably more than a dozen times, I can easily say that he is no worse than some stage Javerts, while a far cry from the best of them. His singing voice is somewhat lackluster: its not off key, it’s not horrible, but it lacks inflection. While lack of inflection seems to be a necessity in rock bands these days (of which Mr Crowe is a longtime participant in addition to his acting career) its detrimental when singing a semi-operatic musical theater score. While his songs don’t soar, I imagine 99 percent of movie goers aren’t going to care, as long as there are lots of closeups of his eyes. One of the movie reviews I read called him a “singing fire hydrant”.

Anne Hathaway gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Fantine, and her “I Dreamed A Dream” will win her that statuette next month. Might as well mail it to her already.

Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) and Eddie Redmayne (Marius) both have too much vibrato in their voices, but their acting is genuine and in the case of Redmayne, at times exhilarating. “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is emotionally overwhelming. Samantha Barks fares better as Eponine, but then she gets the musicals best songs by far. Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen play the Thenardiers for laughs, and the parts are what they are — they are out of place in the stage musical, and they look even more out of place in the movie. Aaron Tveit makes for an excellent Enjolras.  The ensemble is terrific — and if you look closely, you will find dozens of Broadway and West End musical theater up and comers, in particular the guys playing the student compatriots of Marius and Enjolras.

Director Tom Hooper’s approach to the film is to close down some of it into closeup, while opening up other scenes for wide panoramas of sweeping scope. Aside from one odd shot in which St Paul’s Cathedral is visible in “Paris” (the movie was filmed in London), the sets look appropriately Parisian in nature. Most of the movie is filmed using hand-held cameras — now the standard for most action movies, new for musicals to be sure. There are some extreme closeups, and there are dizzying angles and camera sweeps. Photographers refer to putting things in “thirds”…Hooper works, at times, in “fourths” – with Javert, in particular, often appearing in the 4th quarter of the screen with nothing in the first three quarters. Its off-putting, and unique. After awhile, you start to feel that you are part of the action, that you are there, that you are peeking at the action from behind a crate or a ledge above; and Hooper wants it that way.

Les Miserables has always had its debates among the performance set: it’s an operetta masquerading as a musical…it’s a musical with operatic overtones. Its overblown, its overlong, its perfect. It should come as no surprise that the same debate rages now that the movie has been released. Take a look at the Broadway forum “All That Chat” for plenty of vitriol and debate. Reviews have been all over the map.

In reality, I don’t think it matters. Chalk up Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Redmayne), and a slew of technical awards, from costumes to scenic design.

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