Monday, January 28, 2013


The popular 1985 musical written by Claude-Michel Schönberg & Alain Boublil with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer (based on Victor Hugo’s gigantic 1862 novel) makes its long-awaited transition to the big screen, care of screenwriter William Nicholson and director Tom Hooper.  Fans of this particular musical will likely rejoice; however, fans of movie musicals will likely cringe.  Following the bombastic braying of horns the film opens with French prisoner Jean Valjean (an earnest Hugh Jackman) learning of his parole from guard Javert (a banal Russell Crowe).  Valjean breaks parole but vows to be a better man.  Flash forward several years.  Unwed mother Fantine (a committed Anne Hathaway) works in a factory owned by the now legitimate (and aliased) Valjean.  The manager fires her while a distracted Valjean allays the suspicions of (now) Inspector Javert.  Fantine turns to prostitution, is mutilated and nearly arrested before Valjean intercedes and vows at Fantine’s deathbed to look after her young daughter.  With his identity revealed to Javert, Valjean flees with Cosette in tow.  Flash forward to the June Rebellion of 1832.  Marius (a tepid Eddie Redmayne) is torn between his commitment to rebel Enjolras (a charismatic Aaron Tveit) and his infatuation with beautiful adult Cosette (a fragile Amanda Seyfried).  Valjean, realizing that Marius is his young ward’s best chance to escape his (Valjean’s) tainted past, joins the front line to protect him.  Javert, meanwhile, converges on the barricades to smash the rebellion.  Amidst this cavalcade are unsavory innkeeper Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his even less savory wife (Helena Bonham Carter), both clumsily executed, their daughter Eponine (an affecting Samantha Barks), and rebel boy Gavroche (a rousing Daniel Huttlestone).  This subject clearly deserves epic treatment.  However, rather than use the widescreen spectacle to best advantage, director Hooper pedantically focuses on actors’ faces in close up.  This conceit telegraphs “emotion” but fails to create an interesting or cogent visual palate.  Rather than sweep you up in the characters’ passions, the film crushes you with them.

1 comment:

  1. I never saw the stage production (so not a devotee) and had only heard "I Dreamed a Dream" and "Castle On a Cloud" prior to seeing this musical version of "Les Misérables." I was blown away - I found the raw intimacy of the tight shots during Valjean's "Who Am I?" and Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" so compelling it still makes my knees weak in recollection. Allowing the actor/singers to sing live on camera (as opposed to lip syncing with a studio taping) was brilliant!!! Kudos to Tom Hopper - I hope he has launched a trend. Jackman and Hathaway, respectable voices, owned the roles and their performances made the film so poignant, worth the price of admission and then some, even if some of the others were less so (Crowe??!). Plus, the very moving depiction of mercy & grace displayed toward a guilty one, and how it changed his life dramatically to the core, then spilled over into others in acts of kindness and mercy...sigh...a message our messed up world so needs to hear!