Les Miserable – Film Review

18 Dec

Screen Shot 2012-12-16 at 11.23.04

“Can you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men?” no? Well neither did I at this screening… as it was indeed more about jubilation as Les Miserables took from stage to screen in Tom Hoopers bold production.

The all singing story follows prisoner 24601 aka Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) ,imprisoned for stealing some bread for his sister, as he breaks parole and becomes a better man thanks to the compassion of a priest and a promise to young mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) as she lays on her deathbed. The only problem being that persistent and law obsessive Javert is on a manhunt and nothing will stop him bringing this convict to justice.

Les Miserables is the longest running musical in history and its success is a testament to the story and the incredible musical numbers that expertly guide the audience through this complex tale. Tom Hooper has embraced this and done a valiant job in making it more widely available through the Screen Shot 2012-12-16 at 11.26.17silver screen. To this I’m grateful, but as a Les Miserable fan, I can’t help but be a little nit-picking. After all, some of the wonders of the theatre production can never really have the same impact on screen, but it was interesting to see where the balance shifted and what surprised me the most.

First, lets look at the casting. By far the standout performance is from Anne Hathaway, in fact her portrayal as Fantine is Oscar worthy. She managed to reduce me to a quivering wreck throughout I Dreamed a Dream. The raw desperation in her performance will move even the biggest sceptic. I have seen the stage show six times and I have never seen a performance quite like this and I challenge anyone to not shed a tear throughout this song. The power that Hathaway possesses in this is also balanced with the simplicity of the shot which remains in a medium close up following her intimately.

Hugh Jackman is incredibly competent as Jean Valjean, he guides the audience with ease, and delivers some impressive vocals, however you can’t help but think that Alfie Boe would have delivered a far more commanding version and be able to hit the correct register as intended (and is the challenge) for numbers such as Bring Him Home. Never the less, out of Hollywood’s hot pickings, there is none more suitable than Jackson who, we must not forget has his roots firmly planted in Musical Theatre.

Pleasant surprises come also from baby faced Eddie Redmayne, who, bar an occasionally distracting “jiggly jaw” as I like to call it, demonstrates that his choir boy days at Eton have served him well, and he embodies Marius with ease and sends an exemplary chill down the spines of the audience throughout Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. Samantha Barks also shines as Eponine, however does not manage to provoke quite as much emotion from the audience throughout On My Own. However this may be down to the uncomfortable shot position given by Hooper throughout this song. Regardless, who would have thought that a spot on BBC’s I’d Do Anything, would have seen her just a few short years later be part of a major Hollywood film.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen delight as Monsieur and Madame Thenadier, and provide the light relief necessary throughout the Screen Shot 2012-12-16 at 11.23.59film. Cohen is particularly standout with his ad-hoc one liners and surprisingly good singing voice. For Carter, although good, you can’t help but think you’ve seen her character multiple times before, as she dons a Tim Burton esq portrayal which is delivered like clockwork. Their biggest number Master of the House, is played for laughs as it should be, but is slightly drowned by the background noise and ambience that some of the particularly funny one liners are somewhat lost on occasions as it could have been one of the most memorable numbers.

The biggest surprise has to be Russell Crowe. Huge skepticism surrounded his casting as Javert, however, although clunky at times, he delivers an impressive performance.

Overall this film rests, as it should, on the ability of its cast members, but Director Tom Hooper brings to life a convincing 19th Century France. Some of the settings, particularly the rounding up of revolutionaries (shot in Greenwich) is visually spectacular, and you feel the excitement building for the big barracade showdown. However, when the time comes to see this spectacle, which on stage is one of the biggest wonders and ores of the production, you are left slightly underwhelmed. The enclosed area of streets in which this is set, very much look like part of a set and takes away from the marvel of the scene we have just seen, this is a shame, because it makes viewing inconsistent and those Les Mis fans who are very familiar with the stage production will be particularly observant in these parts.

Hoopers’ camera angles at times are also interesting. He mixes some of the most simple shots with some which more feel like he’s puffing up his peacock feathers to show his dominance in the film world. Ironically, it is the more simplistic work, which demonstrates his talent more effectively, Screen Shot 2012-12-16 at 11.25.01rather than the more auteuristic attempts. It’s interesting however, seeing what works better on stage than on film. The magic of the theatre is about pushing peoples imagination, and scenes like the sewer are not as impactful in the film version. On the flipside, the visual portrayals in Master of the House really help elevate the song and the comedic element to the scene.

Overall this is a strong attempt at taking this concept to a cinematic audience. The faults are highlighted but are in no way damning to this pleasing production. Never before has anyone brought this musical version of the Victor Hugo novel to the cinema successfully before, and although I think there are far too many strong contenders for best picture at the Oscars this year, I think Les Miserable will have a considerable run at the awards ceremonies.

But whilst we wait for the award based outcome of this film, we can check out some interviews from the New York premiere…which aren’t quite what they seem…

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One Response to “Les Miserable – Film Review”

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  1. Ones to watch in 2013… « Fanatical about Film in a Perfect Way… - January 5, 2013

    […] For my full review check out my earlier blog post:  https://rebeccaperfectfilmpresenter.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/476/ […]

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