[Movie Review] Les Misérables: Hits And Misses

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Beyond Hollywood

Possibly the most (over)hyped movie of the year, the most recent incarnation of

Les Miserables

, stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, with Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers. Directed by Tom Hooper, the man behind the Academy Award winning

The King's Speech

,

Les Miserables

 is a big, broad movie that embraces its considerable largess. 

There are problems of course. Hooper's insistence on sticking the camera firmly in every singing face is off-putting. I suspect I may well know every nook and cranny of Anne Hathaway's tonsils. To add insult to injury, the camera work is shaky; an artistic choice I'm sure, but a highly irritating one from the audience's point of view. The dialog is hard to follow at times as it is sung all the way through. This is no fault of Hooper's of course, but newcomers to the musical may find it difficult to follow along. 

There are very lovely touches though. The light melody of "One Day More" plays throughout and transitions into other numbers beautifully. It goes a long way to tie the movie together tonally, and helps dictates the mood from beginning to end. Tangentially, I found myself highly amused by the plethora of poor dental work, and the muskets that were good for only one shot. 

But the real selling point of the movie is its stars. From Wolverine's feats of strength to seeing Catwoman's head shaved and teeth pulled, the cast is varied, but ultimately strong. 

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

Hugh Jackman's Valjean was brilliant. That is the long and short of it. I've known that Jackman had experience in musical theatre for a while, but I wasn't prepared for how incredible his performance as Jean Vajean was. He gave possibly the best performance of the entire cast, and I hope that he's recognized for the work that he did in this role. From his physical transformation in "Look Down" to his heart-wrenching acting and vocals in "Valjean's Death", Jackman gave an incredibly solid performance from start to finish that deserves all the accolades that are are bound to be showered upon him come awards season. A+

Russell Crowe as Javert

Russell Crowe's Javert left a lot to be desired, and his performance was honestly the low point of the movie. While Crowe is inarguably a competent actor, his every appearance onscreen was severely marred by his terrible singing voice. His vocals were heady and tense; one could see his mind processing the lyrics as they escaped his lips. "The Confrontation" was perhaps his best number. Having Jackman's vocals as secondary support improved things for him immensely. But other numbers like "Javert's Suicide" were not as lucky. As much as I love the song in itself, Crowe's rendition does not do it justice. Overall, though Crowe fits the bill visually and more than embodies the bold and self-assured Javert, he is not strong enough vocally to carry the role. C-.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Anne Hathaway's performance as Fantine has been dominating the promotional cycle for this movie, and with good reason. While her level of public exposure is a little much in relation to her time onscreen, she gives a beautiful and visceral performance. Her transformation from poor but delicate factory girl to beaten and broken prostitute over the course of four short numbers is something to behold. As a self confessed Hathaway apologist (I love her irrationally), you make take this with a grain of salt: Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream", while not quite the boisterous and belting arrangement we have come to expect as per the likes of Susan Boyle, is nothing short of perfect. As we sit with Hathaway's Fantine after she has had her spirit completely broken, we can see and feel her pain emanating off the screen. It is one of the ways in which Hooper's directing style works wonderfully. Rather than perform the song simply as a musical number, we get to experience it as Fantine would experience those emotions in real life: the stark realization that her life has veered completely off course and there is little she can do to change it. A brilliant (if short) performance. A-.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as The Thenardiers

Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were FANTASTIC as the swindling Thenardiers. "Master of the House" was equal parts entertaining and hilarious, and "Beggars at the Feast" was a welcome comedic break after the heaviness of the death of the revolutionaries. The two have great comedic chemistry, and I hope to see them work together again in the near future. A+

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette and Eddie Redmayne as Marius

Neither Seyfried's Cosette or Redmayne's Marius left much of an impact. While the characters' love story is touching, there isn't much time given to allow the audience to invest in them. "A Heart Full of Love" is sweetly performed, but leaves little impact, and does nothing to endear you to either character. One comes away from the movie happy that the characters have each other, but not particularly moved by their love. Additionally, while Redmayne's vocals were satisfactory but not spectacular, (he especially shines in "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables"), Seyfried's vocals are tinny and light; they are shaky and unsure to the casual listener. Though her performance was better than expected, she has done little in the way of redeeming herself from her moderate showing in 2008's

Mamma Mia!

B- and B+ respectively.

***

The movie does have several other standouts however. Samantha Barks' Eponine is just the perfect amount of teenage angst. A wonderful mix of unrequited love and selflessness. (B+) Aaron Tveit's Enjolras is handsome and engaging, and the scene where he dies is as poignant as it is dramatic. (A-) Isabelle Allen and Daniel Huttlestone shine as young Cosette (B) and Gavroche. Huttlestone especially stands out as the plucky young street urchin who holds his own against actors many years his senior.(A+)

Overall, the film is quite good. It is inspiring in the dips and swells that accompany the music, and does its fairly large cast justice. Anyone who was already a fan of the musical will be more than satisfied with the overall result, if not the individual performances, and anyone who is new to the story will find it thoroughly engrossing. Final score? A respectable A-. Here's hoping you find yourself in an audience who doesn't mind you singing along!