Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Case for Les

The musical of Les Miserables as a movie?  Well, a lot of other musicals have made that transition, and some of them weren't too horrendous, but it seems a lot of people have wanted to go (the screening at the new Lighthouse on Cuba Street had to be moved into a bigger room to fit in all those wanting to attend) and see how this one came out.  And a lot of them have told me to beware of Hugh Jackman.

After seeing the film, I wasn't entirely sure why he came in for so much criticism.  I mean, I could see why - his role as Jean Valjean is pretty thankless musically, as he has to sing a lot of the "bridging dialogue" to pretty uninspiring tunes and doesn't really get a big stand out song of his own.  And, sure, his voice is of the wobbling variety, and is sometimes lost in his desire to emote, but otherwise, he's pretty good - if, after all that, there is anything left to praise.

As to the story, well, Valjean is a convicted criminal who flees parole and makes a new life for himself.  He is pursued by Javert (Russell Crowe, singing strongly but, for me, rather nasally) and eventually having to flee, taking Cosette, the daughter of the tragic Fantine (an amazing Anne Hathaway - wasn't she in Princess Diaries once upon a time?) who gets the show stopping "I dreamed a dream" song, during which the audience sat motionless, completely and utterly silent and mesmerised.

The story then shifts to Paris where a now grown up Cosette (sung like a chipmunk by Amanda Seyfried; thank goodness Cosette doesn't get too many songs as an adult) falls for the revolutionary Marius (a really impressive Eddie Redmayne), who is actually a bit of a prick considering how quickly he forgets the ideals of the revolution once all his friends are dead... but that's not important right now.

It's all pretty depressing stuff, but packed with some incredible songs along the way, even if I wasn't overly impressed by Samantha Barks' version of my favourite song, Eponine's "On My Own".

Of course, Barks probably was a bit distracted by the fact that whenever she sings in the movie, the director decided to drown her in fake rain.  Maybe that is also to show off her amazing body, with her incredibly small waist and plunging cleavage.

So the story and songs are incredible, and the performances are pretty good, especially considering they were all sung "live", as it were.  It's a pity then that the cinematography was so disappointing, though I did wonder if some of the extreme and disturbing close ups during the songs were so that the boom or the microphone or whatever wasn't in shot as the actors belted out the words. 

And the film is really, really long.  This is not helped by the very slow ending and a couple of uninspiring songs also bringing up the rear.  Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen (love those names) pop up regularly to provide some light relief from the otherwise unrelenting misery (in which I also include Seyfriend's singing), and they do make some of the slower scenes pass more swiftly, but that didn't stop me from fidgeting more and more as the end slowly came into sight.

Verdict: Les Miserables is an amazing stage show and the movie puts it on screen in a very competent way.  I was not overly impressed with the staging and some of the performances, but given the material, it was always going to be pretty good.  It is just not much more than that.  6.5 red flags out of 10.

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