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'Les Miserables' Movie Review: The Music and the Missed
The much-anticipated Tom Hooper movie rendition of 'Les Miserables' turns out to be a mixed bag of suitable and not so suitable choices. It’s more like a bowl of trail mix where the viewers pick out the nuts they like over the ones they don’t.
The much-anticipated Tom Hooper movie rendition of "Les Miserables" turns out to be a mixed bag of suitable and not so suitable choices. It's more like a bowl of trail mix where the viewers pick out the nuts they like over the ones they don't.
It is pretty clear that this screen adaptation of the French novel by Victor Hugo and Broadway stage play by Andrew Lloyd Weber already has an instant following because it is acknowledged as a universally revered material. Some members of the audience even fear that the too passionate ones sitting nearby may spoil things for them by singing along with the actors. A number of people may just leave the movie theater singing their favorite songs from the musical.
In the timeless tradition of classic movie musicals, this evocative production's intricate technical values become rightfully accessible to the public. For the most part, its musical component remains heartbreaking on screen. The film's big, emotional missiles of songs often soar high, especially to those who are familiar with the world-famous pop opera. However, its scope and treatment as a motion-picture work still doesn't quite make it the sweeping epic it is expected to be. The way it plays around the stage musical's trappings either misses or crams out too many ideas and themes down to the viewers' throats -- without cinematically weaving the interrelated story arcs together.
The various performances and production numbers would likely evoke love it or hate it sentiments. Viewers may find a couple of touching musical sequences to wallow into. But critically speaking, the gritty picture struggles to be structurally sound as it laboriously walks through the material's songbook. The mostly disconnected story arcs end up overshadowing the wholeness of the production. As a cinematic venture, the narrative flow should be in line with the core of the story. Sad to say, "Les Mis" miserably fails on this part. Its focus on separate standout segments of the tale makes it feel more like a big-budget translation than an inspired film adaptation of its source.
As a dramatic saga of an epic scale, this project works in putting up the opulence of famous faces offering fleeting bursts of energy in their dramatic interpretations of the songs. However, these cinematically palatable moments instantly fade after moving on to so-so or even unpleasant performances following them. A film should not only shine in individual moments, everything should come together as a compelling presentation. What merely turns out here is a messy and choppy piece with the way the movie tells its story of broken dreams, unrequited love, passion, sacrifice, and redemption.
The strongest parts of the film clearly come from the heart-wrenching and magnetic moments showcased by a few good on-screen talents. They may not always have the same vocal power as those starring in Broadway musicals, but for a film venture, they deliver parts that are quite emotionally fulfilling. Ironically, the weakest parts of the film come from the acting and singing pitfalls of some actors, including some major ones. All these make a huge chunk of the story work more like a collection of performances instead of becoming a solid narrative. The main concern for such a screen adaptation is not simply whether the songs from the source material remain spectacular or the nostalgia for it would play a huge role. Ultimately, it's the issue on whether the film can capture the wholeness of the story and its cultural values. The other elements simply follow down the line.
The treatment involving actors singing the songs live on camera becomes a pretty interesting experiment. At times, it succeeds. One of the best sequences comes from the one-shot performance of Anne Hathaway singing Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream." However, a number of musical performances are cut from one shot to another, from very tight to very wide shots, which somehow defeat the purpose of the live recording of the sung lines in the edit.
Hathaway may just appear in the film for a few minutes, but she impressively leaves her mark with her bravura singing and acting. Hugh Jackman is a convincing Jean Valjean, which really helps carry the long and uneven narrative to a modest degree. Eddie Redmayne provides an admirable performance as Marius. Unfortunately, Russell Crowe as Javert lacks the potency that such a major role needs. He really couldn't sing well, even just to at least keep up with his co-actors' decent singing. More often than not, his vocal performances turn out quite annoying.
As a boldly conceived effort, its grand potential doesn't live up to the expectations. The musical's grand theme and cultural impact overpower this cinematic version's storytelling. The lavish presentation is unable to cohesively craft an enduring tale of romance, sacrifice, heroism, and the survival of the human spirit. It simply strips down some piercing emotions and incorporates them in specific scenes, allowing the audience to dip themselves into them as they please. Yet, these don't mean that this poignant piece won't be a joy to the committed fans of the musical anymore. From the intimate close-ups to the lavish long shots, this picture still offers viewers an effectively immersive series of "music video/videoke tearjerker moments" on screen.
As a whole, "Les Miserables" does not make an entirely good movie, but it is still an entertaining mainstream affair for its target audience.