Thursday, 17 January 2013

Review - Les Misèrables

     Les Misérables has been surrounded by hype and expectations since the announcement it was being made into a film. And, on the whole, I didn’t find it disappointing.

     To clarify before I go any further – I have not seen the stage musical version, but I have read the book, by Victor Hugo. Yes, all 1200 pages, an entity who sheer size determines that it really should be discussed almost entirely separately from its adaptations. So, I went in knowing the plot and characters, but not how it had been adapted, as naturally, a lot has to be removed to condense it to a watchable length. Normally, this irritates me to no end in film adaptations of books, but the only part that really bothered me this time was the length of Marius and Cosette’s courtship. While I did find it a bit far-fetched in the book, in terms of the very sudden, very intense emotion, a romance of secret meetings lasting several weeks before the rebellion is at least somewhat more plausible then the incredibly brief encounter they have in the film. But on the whole, the book has been adapted well – major praise on the person who thought to turn that book into such a widely-celebrated musical.

     I am not a huge fan of musicals, but I do enjoy some – Oliver perhaps being my favourite, and so this was pretty far up my street. I was not aware that practically the entire script is sung, which at times I found a little odd and forced, but the more spectacular songs make up for this. Particular stand outs for me were One Day More, On My Own, Do You Hear the People Sing? and of course, I Dreamed A Dream. I also loved the ending, which was not included in the book, and is a much more enjoyable finish (I won’t give too much away for those unfamiliar with it!) I think the decision to have the cast sing on set was excellent on Tom Hooper’s part, as when there is so little spoken dialogue, miming to recorded vocals would have been very forced and jarring. Live vocals make it much more raw and emotional, in my opinion, though I have read reviews that disagree.

     As for the cast, there were obviously some issues regarding the balance of acting and singing ability. Hugh Jackman makes for a strong Valjean, though I didn’t see anything extraordinary in his performance. His acting is strong and emotionally charged, depicting his character’s dramatic change well, but I was not a fan of his singing voice, as it was too high and weak at times. Anna Hathaway, who has a brief part, still manages to make a strong impression as Fantine. She is emotional and raw, clearly dedicated to her acting, and her rendition of I Dreamed A Dream will certainly never be forgotten any time soon. The scenes between these two characters are some of the most moving in the film. Russell Crowe is probably the weak link in this cast, in many ways. Javert is austere and dedicated to the law, but Crowe seems rather flat on screen, showing even less emotion than I was expecting from this cold officer. I can only say that perhaps he was too focussed on his singing, and forgot to act.

     Amanda Seyfried, plays the sweet, naive Cosette fairly well, with a singing voice perfectly suited to these qualities. I found her to lack any real depth, but having thought this about the character in the novel, this is due to the part rather than acting ability. The same is true of her younger counterpart, played by Isabelle Allen – sweet and angelic, but simplistic. Eddie Redmayne plays Marius wonderfully – though I should admit that he is absolutely gorgeous and I am very biased. His acting is emotionally charged, with a larger range than some other characters, and makes for some very touching moments, and his singing, while nothing incredible, is competent and comfortable. Broadway alums Aaron Tveit and Samantha Barks play Enjolras and Eponine respectively, and their experience shows. Tveit is strong and confident in his role, but Barks is exceptional, being familiar with her role already. Her rendition of On My Own is truly breath-taking and she brings great depth and sentiment to a character who I greatly disliked in the book. Her final scene with Marius is something I shall never forget.

     Finally in the cast, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter bring a wonderful hilarity to their scenes as the villainous Thénardiers, in what is otherwise a very serious film, stealing every scene they are present in. And Daniel Huttlestone is delightfully charming as the cheeky Gavroche, though may be better suited to the streets of London than Paris – a potential Artful Dodger in the making.

     Visually, the film is breath-taking, taking us inside some of the less familiar areas of Paris and France, of narrow winding streets hosting the barricades, the splendour of the avenue where the funeral procession takes place, the filthy, poverty stricken areas Fantine finds herself in, and the ruined remains of the rebellion’s headquarters. Despite Crowe’s acting and singing, the most visually spectacular scenes are those of his solos, on a rooftop and later a bridge at a night with the glorious Notre Dame providing a memorable backdrop. The climax of the rebellion is exciting, tense and dramatic, cleverly weaving each character’s individual story into a greater whole, while keeping us emotionally connected to every one of them. Each has a powerful and inspiring story, none of which are over-emphasised or neglected. The costumes and make-up are also very well selected, showing off each character’s individual traits while staying true to the era, with everything from Valjean’s tattered prison uniform to the Thénardiers ridiculous costumes during their times of profit. On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and think Tom Hooper has done an excellent job adapting such a well-known and loved stage musical for the big screen. Certainly worth anyone going to see.


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