Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Review: Les Miserables

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Les Miserables the stage musical, itself an adaptation of a ridiculously huge Victor Hugo novel, is probably the biggest musical there is. Most musicals get by on one, maybe two, showstopper numbers. Les Miserables (hereinafter referred to as Les Mis) has, at last count, 6 (in no particular order: I Dreamed a Dream, On My Own, Do You Hear the People Sing, One Day More, Stars and Bring Him Home). That’s a lot of big numbers, and a movie adaptation would need big, grand direction to go with it.

Unfortunately, Tom Hooper is directing, and any issues the movie has are directly related to his flat boring direction. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is definitely worth seeing. The acting is amazing, the costumes and sets spot on (well...most of the sets...) and all of my worries about the singing were way off. There’s a lot of good IN the movie. But I’m sorry, this movie is crying out for huge beautiful direction and it’s just not happening. Just as an example, the first major showstopper is I Dreamed a Dream, an incredibly deep and moving number, which is still probably the most famous number from this musical. In this movie, it is realized…via a 4+ minute close up on Anne Hathaway. I don’t usually offer specific direction advice, but I’m sorry, holding the same shot for 4 fucking minutes cheapens the shot; You save the close up for the end of the song.

The plot? It’s the universe shitting on this one guy every time he tries to be a nice guy, for like 3 hours. That about sums it up, do you really not know this? It’s one of the most famous stories in the world. Jean Valjean is a prisoner, put away for stealing a loaf of bread. When he’s freed and breaks parole, he is hunted by Javert, a borderline psychotic inspector, who will not rest until he’s returned to prison. Oh and there’s a romance and something about a student rebellion. But mostly? Life shitting on Jean Valjean.

If there’s a reason to see this movie, it’s the acting. Anne Hathaway has been getting the most press, and it’s well deserved, she really sells her role as Fantaine. She will be up for Best Supporting Actress come Oscar time, and she can probably win. Hugh Jackman is a close runner up, as he is the tasked with holding up the majority of the movie, absent the director’s assistance, and he does admirably, his Broadway experience shining through. Newcomer Samantha Barks does an excellent job, showing solid acting chops and great singing range. Russel Crowe proved my worries of him being out of his depth when it comes to singing, but he rules the acting part as much as he can, even if he's not giving it his all. And Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are welcome diversions in tertiary roles.

There are other minor issues, aside from the weak direction (seriously Tom, put in some goddamn effort, you are doing LES MIS!) While most of the cast is great, Amanda Seyfried is singing way out of her range and her acting is mostly flat. Also, Eddie Redmayne is disappointingly bland as Marius, but I think that’s more of a problem with the character than him (should have hired Daniel Radcliffe, like I said eh?) Also, the movie seems to want to jump back and forth between dark shots and light shots very quickly, which can hurt the eyes occasionally, but that’s a major nitpick.
I dunno. I feel bad, because it seems like I’m giving this movie a negative review. I’m not, it’s quite engaging and the acting is brilliant. But it’s an adaptation of one of the greatest musicals ever made, so saying it’s just ‘pretty good’ feels odd. It shouldn’t just be pretty good, it should be great, it should be one of the best movies of the year. With a little more directorial flare, this movie could be a modern classic. Instead, it just barely gets above being 'bad.'

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’s also a little pissed they cut Dog Eat Dog.

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