Review: LES MISERABLES (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Review: LES MISERABLES (2012)


By now, if you are a movie fan, you should have heard all the positive buzzes surrounding Anne Hathaway's pitch-perfect performance as the doomed Fantine in Tom Hooper's big screen version of Victor Hugo's massive novel, LES MISERABLES and of course its long-running 1980 Broadway musical. Her particularly vocal rendition of I Dreamed a Dream, which is filmed in a bravura single take, has single-handedly moved (many) critics and viewers to tears. After finally watching this movie, I must admit I was moved by Hathaway's heartbreaking role and I can't believe she actually sings very well. No doubt she is truly deserved to garner an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (and I really hope she can win the award as well).

As for director Tom Hooper who is fresh off from his multiple Oscar win in 2010's THE KING SPEECH, has approached LES MISERABLES with a risky but bravura decision of shooting all of his actors singing live rather than lip-synching to pre-recorded playback often seen in Hollywood musicals. It's an exceptional novelty and added to the heartfelt, first half hour of the movie, LES MISERABLES looks very certain of becoming another clear winner for Tom Hooper. In fact, at the time of this writing, the movie has scored 8 Academy Awards nomination including Best Picture and Best Actor (Hugh Jackman). Unfortunately, this 158 minutes musical epic is strangely hollow for much of its running time.

As mentioned earlier, the opening first half hour looks promising enough. It begins with hundreds of convicts being ordered to drag the ship into the dock by using ropes. One of the convicts are Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) who is pulling the rope at all his might. Then he is ordered by the sadistic warden, Javert (Russell Crowe) to lift a heavy pole that carries a French flag. Valjean manages to do so as he demonstrates such incredible strength.

After Valjean is finally released from prison under a parole, he proceeds to find a job but unable to secure any work because of his status as an ex-convict. As he is unable to find a place to sleep and eat, he is eventually lucky enough to meet a bishop (Colm Wilkinson) who is kind enough to provide him good hospitality. However, later that night, Valjean wakes up from the bed and steals a couple of silverware. He flees, but gradually being apprehended by the local police. He is brought back to the bishop but the bishop claims that he actually given him the silverware and further proves his innocence by handling him two silver candlesticks. In return for his freedom, Valjean swears to become a changed man.

Years has passed, and Valjean is now taking on the new identity as Monsieur Madeleine, a mayor and a factory owner. He meets a lowly factory worker named Fantine (Anne Hathaway), who gets fired when it is discovered she has an illegitimate child named Cosette (Isabelle Allen). Meanwhile, he crosses path with Javert again, who immediately recognizes him as the ex-convict he once knew before.

As Fantine struggles to make ends meet by turning herself into prostitution, she is eventually falling very ill. Valjean feels pity for her and promises to care for her daughter Cosette like his own child before Fantine's eventual death.

So far, so good. But by the time Fantine is out of the picture, the rest of the two hours' running time fails to match the intensity of what has come before, particularly when Hathaway sings her heart out so emotionally devastating in I Dreamed a Dream.

The biggest problem of this movie is Tom Hooper himself. Yes, the visual re-creation of the 19th-century Paris is stunning and while Hooper's decision to film all the actors' singing performances as much closeups as he can to proof that they are indeed singing live has that certain intimate quality, too much of everything can be seriously devastating. And that's what Hooper has made a huge mistake here. For all the lavish production values provided here, this movie feels too stagy to qualify as a cinematic movie musical. In fact, there are just too many closeup shots to the point of nausea.

William Nicholson's adapted screenplay feels stuffy and of course, heavy-handed. Apart from Hathaway's winning performance, the rest of the actors pale by comparison. Hugh Jackman is quite decent as the struggling Jean Valjean. He certainly can sing as well, but I'm not convinced enough he actually deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Actor because frankly, his performance is uneven. Russell Crowe, who is always impressive as a dramatic actor, looks hopelessly out of touch playing the role of Javert. Although he also part-time as a singer headlining a longtime band called 30 Odd Foot of Grunts in real life, his singing performance comes across as shallow and off-key. Not only that, he also looks too stiff and dare I say, boring. As the adult Cosette, Amanda Seyfried's performance is sadly forgettable, while Eddie Redmayne is fairly adequate as the rebel student, Marius. Newcomer Samantha Barks has a few minor moments for herself playing the doomed Eponine who had a crush with Marius. Her vocal renditions are also exceptionally top-notch. Finally, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, are adequately cast as two cunning innkeepers. At least they are good performing necessary comic relief (their duet in Master of the House is particularly quirky) in this otherwise morose production.

No doubt there are a few worthwhile songs here and there. But to sum this as an overall effort, LES MISERABLES remains a huge disappointment especially given all the massive hype and most of the highly-acclaimed talents involved here.

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