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Les Misérables

Les Misérables is one of the greatest musicals of all time and I was really looking forward to the movie adaptation. While an OK movie, sadly, it falls far short of what it could have been, with significant flaws. Let’s start with casting – Russell Crowe was a bad choice for Javert. While Crowe doesn’t have a bad voice, it’s simply too angelic (“little boy” was what I called it walking out of the theater). Javert needs far more grit, more punch. Anne Hathaway delivered a good performance, but she did not fit my preconception of Fantine as a somewhat older woman. Hugh Jackson was pretty good as Jean Valjean and Samantha Barks, the West End veteran, was excellent as Eponine. I was initially delighted to see Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers, but their performances seemed restrained from the heights of ridiculousness I know they are capable of and their performances lacked the joyfulness/silliness the parts are known for. Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried as Marius/Cosette were fine, but there was no chemistry there, but then, I’ve never seen a performance, either on stage or screen, where I’ve really connected with that romance – I just don’t buy the “love at first sight” bit. Colm Wilkinson, the original Jean Valjean, has a small part as the Bishop who initially sets Valjean on the road to self-reinvention.

Tom Hooper, noted for “The King’s Speech”, directs, and he makes a number of interesting decisions. The first is that all the singing is captured live – there is no lip-syncing. I’m of two minds about this. I think it’s a very bold move and certainly connects the viewer to the performance in an more visceral way. I always notice lip-syncing and it’s a bit distracting, though I typically forgive it when the recorded performance is good. However, this decision perhaps led to a decision to use very tight headshots for most, if not all, of the songs. I’m not saying the headshots are bad, but when you do it for all the songs it gets rather tiring being in everyone’s face all the time. Give me some variety – some sweeping shots – show me more of Paris. That and they had problems keeping the faces in focus. What I really, really, hate is the use of the handheld camera. I don’t know if it was necessary to maintain the closeups, but I detest the constant bobbing of the handheld camera – it makes me motion sick. I don’t know who decided the use of a unstabilized camera injects realism/grittiness into a film, but that person should be shot. The human visual system is excellent at tracking motion in reality and when a large portion of the field of view is bobbing up and down without the inner ear detecting anything, this disconnect just causes nausea. USE A STEADICAM.

Oh, and what’s with the tilted shots? What are we, teens from the 90s?

There are a few songs that I didn’t recognize, but it appears that’s because I’m used to listening to incomplete soundtracks.

The movie never really drew me in. I love the story and I teared up when Marius sings “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” and more at the end scene where Valjean dies. But the overall movie lacked for passion, perhaps because the musical itself has some rough spots as well, which get magnified on the big screen. Still, I think that in better hands, this could have been glorious.

Fans of the musical will have to see it, and should, but first-timers should really plan to see a stage performance.

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