Les Misérables (2012)

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 9:28 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 7/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10

LES MISÉRABLES (2012) - Tom Hooper

I dreamed a dream that acclaimed director Tom Hooper from The King's Speech would one day direct a live adaptation of Les Misérables. What I did not expect was that my wish was granted within two years. Based on Victor Hugo novel and the third longest running show of all time (behind Phantom of the Opera and Cats), Les Misérables is a musical converted from the novel to stage to the big screen.

Classic in its story, Les Misérables revolves around Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a French peasant who goes on a quest for redemption after serving nineteen years in jail for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving relatives. After starting his life anew and meeting Fantine (Anne Hathaway), he finds himself not just tracked down by police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), but also caught in the middle of the French Revolution, where a group of young idealists make their last stand.

The acting performance in the film is phenomenal. For a large cast filled with big names, each actor did his/her job perfectly. Since each actor literally sang their songs live in front of the camera, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are beyond compelling. Furthermore, the entire cast is assisted by skillful cinematography that knows when to give long single takes for the characters to sing. Yes, Hathaway's I Dreamed A Dream was one single shot. Bring her the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, though she has one tough competition with Sally Field this year -- the same goes with Hugh Jackman's nomination going against Daniel Day-Lewis.

As for someone as stoic yet second-layered as Javert, who else is better to portray him than Russell Crowe? As for the Thénardiers, Tom Hooper cleverly brings back Helena Bonham Carter, who previously worked with him in The King's Speech. Combine Carter with Sacha Baron Cohen, who worked with her before in Sweeney Todd, and you get a great chemistry that is both amusing and appealing. Although I love their presence and their devotion to their roles, I did believe that the screen time the Thénardiers had was too much, a little bit detract away from the main narrative.

Despite all these familiar big names everywhere throughout the film, the most noticeable and my personal favorites come from Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks, playing Marius and Éponine respectively. However, for Marius' character, his moments in the revolution are what strike me the most. But for his chemistry moments with Amanda Seyfried, the Romeo and Juliet setting dived in faster than me saying, "Oh no." As for Barks, who comes forth as an actress doing her film debut, she is another actress who has caught our eyes and attention this year. As much as I loved Anne Hathaway's performance, Samantha Barks' performance of On My Own is the best moment in the entire musical-turned film.

For those who have seen the poster, seeing the iconic face of little Cosette being converted to actress, fear not. Young Isabelle Allen as young Cosette is the strongest driving force throughout the entire piece. For a critic who knows the story but never knew why the poster is little Cosette, I finally understand why. By the way, this is a girl who bears a strong resemblance to a young Dakota Fanning. Maybe that is why Amanda Seyfried was chosen to portray an older Cosette.

Every single character sings live at the camera this time around. There are no songs pre-recorded. Every take means the actor needs to sing the song again. As a result, this method of music delivery is the film's strength and minor flaw. As a strength, the actors are able to use their surroundings and acting talent while singing, mixed together to generate an emotional piece of music. However, as a flaw, all these actors cry and breathe and gasp their feelings out while singing, and thus several music notes that were meant to have melodies now lose their pitch. Instead of the actors singing a verse, they sometimes sound like they are speaking or whispering the verse. As a result, half of the songs sound very similar. Then again, the power of Les Misérables still remains well alive in its music, constantly absorbing the audience into its world.

Director Tom Hooper is a skillful art director, as skillful as Tim Burton. From costumes to Oscar-worthy makeup and production design, Hooper successfully immerses us into the world of revolutionary France. Though the literal subject is more gloomy, the atmosphere of the musical itself brings about a sense of beauty. If that was what Hooper was going for, then I can proudly say he has done it. 

Unfortunately, this time around, it seems that Hooper paid less attention to the actors portraying their characters. Going back to his previous film, The King's Speech, the entire film had a sense of teamwork among Hooper, Firth, Rush, and Carter. Here in Les Misérables, it looks as if Hooper just let the cast go out on their own. As a result, there is a sense of shakiness in the film's tempo, like a musician who is not completely fluent enough in a piece. Les Misérables is a grand ambition brought alive, but in being a musical conversion, it forgot that it is still a *film*. A film needs storytelling, and that is probably the weakest part of Les Misérables. The editing and pacing of the film's first half is unreasonably fast, while the second half's pacing became excessively slow. Even though the lyrics of the songs do tell the story, the film lacks a focus in passing this story to the audience, with a clear beginning, middle and end. In strict words, it looked as if Les Misérables was simply trying to squeeze a laundry list of songs out to overfeed its hungry audience. We care about Valjean for the first hour, but then the film detracts us over to the revolution. By the time an emotional punch is needed to be delivered, the substance has already been downgraded. Perhaps this is a pitfall that all musical-turned films go through. They have too many items going on and also cannot afford to slow down on each item.

In conclusion, Les Misérables is a very ambitious film approached by Tom Hooper, and for the most part, it has succeeded in its delivery. There are times where the dream I dreamed came true, but there were also times where I groaned a groan. The acting is phenomenal, set pieces grand, and cinematography sometimes appealing, but its substance and lack of power may detract critics from fully enjoying this piece. These critics include the Washington PostNew York TimesEntertainment Weekly, and even TIME Magazine. For me though, Les Misérables is a grand musical-turned film, and there is much to respect and applaud for here. However, it was inevitably not my most satisfying cup of tea. But hey, at least Tom Hooper's Les Misérables did not kill the dream I dreamed.

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