Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Les Miserables: great singing barely outweighs the rest


Les Miserables, Tom Hooper's follow-up film to The King's Speech, the film that won him the Best Director Oscar, is bland filmmaking on an epic scale. The singing is often excellent, save for Russell Crowe. Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, and Eddie Redmayne do a great job, especially Anne Hathaway who should easily win Best Supporting Actress at next year's Oscars. But they all have to pick up Tom Hooper's slack who doesn't allow the actors any space or room to do anything but sing and mope. The focus is squarely on the singing, and the singing is great, but it takes away from the rest of the film. There's no balance, there's no real sense of style. The King's Speech had a great script, great substance, which made up for its bland style. In a musical? Style is what counts. This was supposed to be an epic musical and it barely crosses the finish line before passing out.

Because the singing is often so good, a lot of the film's problems can mostly be ignored but Russell Crowe's singing voice and performance just feels off the entire time. I want to try to be nice and say that maybe his singing style just doesn't mesh well with Hugh Jackman's, but no, he's awful. There's no way around it. He can't carry a tune. He has big dramatic moments where he's pacing around ledges (ooh! foreshadowing!) and it's completely ruined by such awful singing. His performance alone brings this barely above-average film down a grade for me. One of the worst casting choices I've seen in quite some time.

There are positives, however, and they're largely in the final hour when the film is moreso about the student revolution and the love triangle between Cossette, Eponine, and Marius. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are also admirable in their roles as the innkeepers. They bring necessary comic relief to a film that's heavy on the melodrama. All throughout the film there are just enough things that keeps that film scraping by. At first, it's Hugh Jackman's incredible and tortured performance as the prisoner Jean Valjean, then it's Anne Hathaway's even more incredible and more tortured performance as Fantine. They bring life to a film that's mostly lifeless except for its third act which can often be quite powerful. I can't quite tell if it's because the songs are so good, but I'll give Tom Hooper some credit for staging the battle sequence quite adequately and the film comes to a nice close as Jean Valjean slips away to his death.

Les Miserables has a lot of great songs, it's a great piece of literature, a great piece of art. With $61 million and a top notch cast, it'd be hard to mess this up. Tom Hooper unfortunately does too much fiddling around with the camera and not enough staging of the actors in order to give them some more life. They sing, you feel their pain, but it doesn't go beyond that. The film's best moment is Anne Hathaway singing "I Dreamed a Dream" and the camera just stays on her face the entire time. In that case, it worked 100%, but you can't make an entire musical where the actors are just standing around, singing. "Master of the House" is at least amusingly staged, but that's about it.

Overall, it's a film that is easy to admire, but hard to love. If you're a fan of the musical, you'll love the film because they get the songs right. But as a film on its own, it's just bland. Les Miserables definitely has some high moments and the songs are good enough for it not to be a total disaster, but this was supposed to be Tom Hooper's epic musical masterpiece and Les Miserables is far from that.

Grade: C

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