Saturday, February 2, 2013

Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012) Starring: Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter. Directed by Tom Hooper. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh. Screenplay by Willian Nicholson, Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, based on the musical by Claude-Michel Shonberg, based on the book by Victor Hugo and lyrics by Herbert Kretzner. Run Time: 158 minutes. U.K.  Color.  Musical

I believe I’ve stated before that I’m not a really big fan of film musicals, so I’m coming at this film from that point of view. I have been aware of the musical Les Misérables for many years as a stage musical, but frankly something that translates to The Miserable never sounded like a fun evening at the theater to me. And when they made a film out of the musical, I was not really all that excited about spending two and half hours with it. 

Obviously, I was in the minority. The film has garnered many award nominations, including one for Best Picture.
Having recently been given the opportunity to see the film, I can honestly say that it is better than I expected, though I don’t think it will actually win the major awards later this month. The film is somewhat experimental, with the singing being done live, rather than lip-synching to a pre-recorded track, a la Beyonce at the recent Presidential inauguration.

The performances are very impressive for the most part. Foremost of them is Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. Perhaps best known by movie fans as Wolverine from the X-Men franchise, Jackman is also a song and dance man, having won a Tony Award for his Broadway performance as Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz in 2004. In any other year, Jackman might have been a shoe-in to win Best Actor, but he had the misfortune of appearing the same year as Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln. Given that, his singing capabilities don’t come as a surprise.

Hugh Jackman impresses as Jean Valjean
That is not true for Anne Hathaway, who is not a crooner by trade. She is best known as the second Assistant to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and Catwoman in last year’s The DarkKnight Rises. Her performance as Fantine is somewhat of a surprise and a pleasant one.

Ann Hathaway shows that she's much more than a pretty face.
Russell Crowe, an Academy Award winning actor for such roles as Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator (2000), is also a surprise and a little of a disappointment. Even though Crowe used to be in a rock band before he made it as an actor, his Inspector Javert is a bit of a one-note performance. While some of the blame may be due to the role or to his direction, some blame lies with the acting. Javert is supposed to be menacing, but there’s more to that than staring and just repeated showing up in the film.

Russell Crowe unfortunately underwhelms as Inspector Javert.
I have not read Hugo’s book, which sounds like it would be career in itself, as the volumes that make up the book span about 1500 pages and not having seen the musical, I am relying on the film to tell me its story. Like the recent historically based films we’ve recently reviewed on the blog, there is something left to be desired about that part of the story-telling. I had thought that the story was based around the French Revolution, but this one does not seem to succeed, so I’m not sure what is being depicted in the film.

While the film obviously had to be condensed to two hours from a planned four, that is no excuse not to tell a proper story and legitimately set up the major plot points. If the book or the musical has a plot hole that is really no excuse, at least to me, for the film to fail to seal that hole. A film needs to tell a coherent story, if that is its intent, no matter what the source material may be.

There are plenty of plot holes in this film. Forgive me if my lack of history shows and what is depicted in this movie is known to everyone but me. That may excuse the French Revolution part of the film. I don’t want to give away too much about a film that is still in theaters, but there are parts of the movie that just didn’t make sense to me, either because the actions depicted seemed illogical or there seems to be a missing explanation for going from point A to point C.

Director Tom Hooper insisted that there be little or no talking, which makes this musical a little more like opera. While this is an interesting way to tell a story, one of the side effects is that the songs of the stage musical get sort of blended in with the interstitial singing. They don’t stand out to the novice listener such as myself, which is a bit of a shame.

For the most part the production of the film is quite impressive. I won’t go into some of the nitpicking I’ve read about on the internet, wherein people point out that they can see the listening devices in some of the singer’s ears. I tend not to notice such things and try to just go with the film. My only complaints are the really obvious ones. The special effects, for example, don’t always look realistic. You can sort of see the CGI, which is not a good thing. And there is one sound effect that comes off as sounding more comical than serious at the wrong time.

The film is not without humor. That is provided by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter who play the Thénardiers, a couple of no good innkeepers who specialize in robbing their customers blind, even literally stealing the eye glasses right off the nose of one of their customers. But sadly the Thénardiers grow thin after too much exposure. I am honestly not a big fan of wither Cohen or Carter; though I do appreciate their talent, it is not always showcased to my liking. You can tell that my disapproval has had little effect on their careers.

Comic relief is supplied by Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen.

I will admit the film did get to me. I cried a couple of times, so I was moved by the story and the plight of the characters. And while I am happy that I saw the film and am impressed with some of the performances, I can’t imagine I’ll be watching the film again. Once was definitely enough for me. If you’ve seen the musical or have read Hugo’s book, then you should definitely see this adaptation. If you’re thinking you’ll be seeing the Academy winning Best Picture, then I would advise you to watch one of the other nominees. This is a good film, but fails to be as great as the epic story it is telling.

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