Director: Tom Hooper
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 158 minutes
Classification: PG-13 (M)
Genre: Historical drama, Musical
Tom Hooper's Les Misérables is a lavish production designed to punch you in the heart and jerk you around by the feelings. If you're not a fan of the stage musical or musicals in general, then you probably won't like the film – it's all singing, all the time. On the other hand, if you like musicals and being emotionally manipulated, then you're in for a right old treat.
Set in 19th century France, the film tells a story of interlocking lives – each, in its own way, touched with misery. At its centre is Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), an escaped convict who remakes himself as an honest man whilst on the run from the law, in this case personified by policeman Javert (Russell Crowe). The sweeping narrative is essentially about people trying to survive in a crapsack world. That said, Les Misérables won't make you too miserable. Sure, a lot of bad things happen, but in the end enough “good” happens so that you won't leave the cinema weeping for the fate of humanity, even if you do leave weeping.
The main strength of the film lies in its star-studded cast, who by and large play their roles with the requisite amount of melodrama and theatrical flair. By now, you've probably heard several opinions about the live singing. Here are mine:
- My favourites were Anne Hathaway's Fantine, Aaron Tveit's Enjolras and Colm Wilkinson's cameo as the Bishop.
- Hugh Jackman could've been better but I still cried during most of his songs. Such is the power of Hugh Jackman.
- I was expecting Russell Crowe to be horrible given all the bad press, but he's not as bad as everyone makes him out to be. While he's the weakest singer out of the main cast, he wasn't objectively terrible.
- Eddie Redmayne continues to confuse me with his strange/good looks and his Kermit-y singing voice (and I like Kermit, so I don't know what to make of this).
- My main disappointment was Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier – I found him a bit bland and his having a French accent didn't make sense. I know the story's set in France, but when so many characters have cockney accents, well, it's just confusing.
I must say I really liked the old timey painterly – and occasionally stage-like – look of the movie. The camera, on the other hand, seemed to really like close-ups of faces. I presume this is to ensure that the viewer doesn't miss how heart-wrenching everything is, because it totally is and you should totally cry, gosh darn it. The film practically demands the audience to feel for its characters, and while this might be distracting and annoying for some, I was swept along in the emotional ride all too easily. The one exception was (spoiler alert) Javert's suicide scene, which goes so far that it's almost hilarious.
Two main problems about the movie were the pacing and the unexplained bits. With so much story, so many songs and so little time, there are understandable time constraints, but the oddities were enough to put a dent in my enjoyment. For example (spoiler alert), it feels as if Fantine goes from getting fired to selling teeth all within the space of an afternoon. What about finding another job, Fantine? Or maybe trying a bit harder to get your old job back? Another thing I struggled with was the implausibility of the insta-love between Marius and Cosette (Amanda Seyfreid), and the fact that “being in love” seemed to be their one collective personality trait. The revolution (happening because poor people have it bad? or something) was also badly explained, its execution poorly organised at best and stupid at worst. Had I not known the general plot beforehand, I would probably have struggled with understanding what was going on. While the film is by no means a study in realism, these moments of incredulity pulled me out of the story and I found myself pondering the logistics of it all when I should have been crying instead.
The film is a good adaptation of the musical. The singing and the emotional punishment might not be for everyone, but for musical lovers and masochists it's fantastic. The catchy tunes and ~dramatic~ performances make it one of the more pleasant depressing films to watch. Les Misérables is not without flaws, but half the time they're fun to argue about and the other half of the time you're probably trying too hard not to ugly-cry to really care.
Alex's Rating: 3.5/5