Les Miserables Reviewby Stephen Bourne (iamstephenbourne AT gmail DOT com)
December 30th, 2012
Review: Les Miserables (2012)
UK, 157 minutes, Rated PG (ON) G (QC)
Reviewed 12/12, (c) Stephen Bourne
Hugh Jackman stars as embittered parole-breaking 19th century French ex-convict Jean Valjean turned benevolent factory owner and wealthy town mayor Monsieur Madeleine, adopting and raising a child from the slums of Paris while evading re-imprisonment at the hands of police inspector Javert (played by Russell Crowe) during the rise of France's post-Revolution 1832 June Rebellion, in this surprisingly undercooked but visually impressive stage-to-screen adaptation of Brit stage producer Cameron Mackintosh's 1985 English version of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg's 1980 French musical based on famed French writer Victor Hugo's 1862 novel Les Miserables. Yes, all the characters are French, yet they all have British accents here. #odd
Both Jackman and Anne Hathaway pull in incredibly disarming stellar performances here. Hathaway plays emotionally shattered fired factory worker Fantine who falls into prostitution to continue supporting her estranged and impoverished young daughter Cosette - the famed poster child of Les Miserables, played here by feature first timer Isabelle Allen. It's literally gobsmacking how effortlessly Jackman and Hathaway elevate this theatrical work beyond its big screen flaws and oftentimes relentless lyrical dialogue to a superior cinematic level of characterization during their scenes. Top marks also go to cinematographer Danny Cohen for capturing those master class moments. Awesome!
However, there's a dilemma. Those performances are exceptionally wonderful and probably wouldn't have been seen otherwise, but the film Les Miserables as a whole has problems. The storytelling is weak and disjointed. Primary supporting characters are barely fleshed-out. Deeper motivations are oversimplified or glossed over, as though you don't need this movie to actually tell you what's going on or why you should care. How, for instance, does Javert, a prison guard in the opening scenes, become transferred as a policeman to Valjean's tiny grubby town later on? Was he fired? Reincarnated? Does it matter? Has anyone here read the book? Quick, Google SparkNotes! Hush, another crying big face is singing on-screen:
I dreamed a dream this film was prime; My hopes were high but then (sniffle,) I saw it...
I realize this picture is adapted from the hugely successful, self- proclaimed longest-running stage musical to date, where large portions of Victor Hugo's richly detailed manuscript were likely already chopped out or shorthanded to accommodate the songs while offering a runtime those in the loge would sit through nightly, but Crowe specifically was robbed here. Compared to Jackman, it's fairly obvious that Crowe was either given little more than a stock heavy's wisp of a character outline to work with beyond the wardrobe and tunes or the majority of what this hugely capable screen actor poured into his purposefully antagonistic role ultimately fell victim to overindulgent deletion in editing. Maybe he should've cried more to gain scenes, I don't know. Co-cast members Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and newcomer Samantha Barks aren't treated much better throughout, as adult Cosette, her love Marius, and his secret admirer Eponine respectively. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen appear to be the only other survivors, hamming it up all gurns and elbows through their comedic relief scenes as The Thenardiers.
The blame for how poorly cobbled this offering of wasted opportunities is over-all lays squarely in the lap of director Tom Hooper, who obviously couldn't be bothered to earn his paycheque using the wealth of his entire cast's talent matched with the power of filmmaking to balance out what came from the stage production, and over-ride screenwriter William Nicholson's clear inability (or fear) to reintroduce elements from Hugo's original material to make this movie something more - oh, I dunno - appropriately cinematic: Solid story. Strong plot points. Rich characters. Compelling dialogue. Little things like that. Something more than adding mud and horses to the mix. Hooper might as well have had Cohen shoot the London musical on-set/location without these parachuted celebs. Barks' reprised Eponine, and Colm "Broadway/West End Valjean" Wilkinson's Bishop of Digne cameo aside, at least that stage cast could have enjoyed a cut of the film's 61 million USD budget. After-all, they were good enough at playing their roles to make the show so popular for so long that UK studio Working Title Films came a-knockin', right?
Comparing movie to movie - and there are many film versions of Hugo's "Les Miz" to choose from - just check out the four-time Oscar-nominated Les Miserables (1935) starring Fredric March as Valjean and Charles Laughton as Javert. That classic's adapted from Hugo's novel; it's not a musical, but watch it and you'll immediately realize how outrageous the hype for this comparably empty, prolonged music video of catchy tunes and missed notes truly is.
Beyond the big screen at http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com, the fairly straightforward official website showcases prerequisite film and cast info, production notes, photos and videos, as well as a few wallpapers. Select North America as your locale and you'll find an additional Infographic support page as well as iTunes links to both the soundtrack (for sale) and, more impressively, the 52-page film companion iBook, Les Miserables: The Musical Phenomenon, for free download. Select Ireland at the homepage, and check out the Message of Hope 5-star Paris holiday contest that includes a VIP tour of and gourmet dinner at the Eiffel Tower courtesy of Universal Pictures Ireland and Dublin's Clerys department store.
Sure musical-lovers, go see Les Miserables if taking in a star-studded matinee version of the internationally renowned stage musical suits your budget better than buying tickets to the actual theatrical production might (if available.) At 157 minutes in length, it's also probably faster seeing it than reading Hugo's novel. Just don't be surprised if - beyond the memorable tunes, amazing sights and incredible performances from Jackman and Hathaway - you spend most of this screening wishing for far more developed supporting characters and fundamentally cohesive storytelling normally expected at the movies, and you realize maybe you should've read the book or seen another film version of Les Miserables beforehand. Or, instead. Reviewed 12/12, (c) Stephen Bourne
Les Miserables is rated PG by the Ontario Film Review Board for use of expletives, mild sexual references, scenes that may cause a child brief anxiety or fear, limited embracing and kissing, mild sexual innuendo, tobacco use, and restrained portrayals of non-graphic violence, and is rated G by la Regie du Cinema in Quebec.
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Tags: Les Miserables, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Victor Hugo
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