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Les Misérables (2012) movie review

I finally got around to seeing Les Misérables, and I have to say, I enjoyed it.

les-misérables-anne-hathaway

THIS!

I didn’t love it, but I certainly had a fun time at the movie.  Still, there are problems (and some highlights), which I will divide into two categories:  “Les Misérables Problems” and “Movie Problems.”  Let’s dive in.

Since I’m going to ramble on for a while, I’ll drop the score now:  6.5 out of 10.

Les Misérables Problems
As a show (I guess Les Mis is technically an opera), I think there is a lot of good stuff happening here.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a good show, mostly held together by its outstanding melodies and arrangements  if not by the plot and character development.

Theme/Plot
From a theme perspective, Les Misérables is heavy-handed.  The people are oppressed, the police are cruel and the aristocracy doesn’t give a fuck.  I GET IT.   YOU DON’T HAVE TO REMIND ME IN EVERY SINGLE SCENE.  It sucks to be poor and/or oppressed.  Duly noted.  I know that’s the point, but it’d be nice to get a breather once in a while.
The plot jumps all over the place and Jean Valjean kinda fades into the background after the first act, then comes back, then goes away again and then comes back again at the very end.  He’s the lead character, but he’s not a revolutionary, so when the fighting starts, he’s just there to protect Marius – he doesn’t seem to be especially into the revolution, he just doesn’t want Marius to die because if he does, Cosette will be sad, and Jean Valjean doesn’t play that.  It’s disruptive to have the story suddenly stop being this tale about Jean Valjean and start being about the failed revolution as Valjean doesn’t really do much at the barricade in terms of what’s happening in the plot – he suddenly becomes a supporting character in his own story!  It’s bizarre.

And there’s other little plot stuff I don’t understand… such as, why does Fantine die?  Did she get pneumonia from being out in the cold?  Did she get an STD from that dude?  Was it from an infection from when she sold some of her teeth?  What?  What?!?  What?!?!?!??!!?!?!?  Anyway, she’s dead.

Characters/Character Development
Les Misérables takes something of a dangerous gamble by introducing so many new characters in the second act and pushing everyone we knew in the first act a bit into the background.  After an hour or so, it’s a bit difficult to accept that we’re supposed to care about this new group of people we suddenly meet in the third time period, but there you go.   This is handled a bit better in the movie than it is in the play as the nature of the movie’s photography lends itself to easily identifying characters, but more on that later.
It’s also worth mentioning that you never get a good sense of who anyone is, anyway.  It’s clear who Jean Valjean is as a character, but Inspector Javert, the inn keepers, Cosette… these characters are kinda flat, meaning I don’t really understand the reason behind their actions.  Cosette, for example, can be described as… uhm…  first a little girl who sweeps, then a young woman who falls in love with some guy for no reason…  I don’t know, she’s just kinda there and doesn’t do anything.  I guess she’s a MacGuffin.  There’s Javert, who is super into his job for some reason – why he’s so into it, I have no idea, but he’s got a hyper sense of duty… for some reason.
Stuff like that.

Movie Problems
Film is a visual art, and while this movie does have its share of cinematic beauty, it also features a ton of bizarre choices.

Shot Decisions
Remember when I mentioned that the plot was heavy-handed?  Kinda like the plot is shoving its message down the viewer’s throats?  From a film perspective, it’s kinda like the movie is trying to shove the audience down the actors’ throats.  Because almost the entire movie is shot in close up.

les-misérables-hugh-jackman

THIS!

But don’t worry, it gets broken up every once and while – by an EXTREME CLOSE UP!

les-miserables-marius

This movie was co directed by Wayne Cambell.

I think I understand what they were trying to do here – I imagine director Tom Hooper was trying to achieve two things:  1. let the performance and singing have a chance to achieve the same marriage they have on stage by having the actors sing on a sound stage rather than in a studio and mixing the film and music together later;  2. create intimacy in a way that could not be done with actors on a stage via the close up shot in an effort to bring the audience into the show  – this also allowed the crew to keep the mic just out of frame above the actor’s head, giving them a better audio recording.  These two goals go hand in hand (especially from a technical perspective), but over the course of a two-hour and thirty-eight minute movie during which people are always singing, it just doesn’t work.  I think it’s fair to guess that the movie features, of 2:38 minute running time, maybe 2:30 of close-ups.  There are that many, and they last for that long.  There are lots of ways to hide a microphone besides shooting in close up – for example, when he shoots Jean Valjean through a broken window (more on that in a second), he could have used the set to hide the microphone since he put the camera on the outside of the building and had the actor on the inside of the building – he could have achieved the same audio with a different shot (a wide shot, for the love of god!), but noooooo, more close-ups!  It’s as if they only brought close up lens and were afraid to call Los Angeles and admit it.  Nobody wanted to get on the phone and say, “Hi.  All we have is a camera crane and one lens.  Nope, no tripod.  No, we only have a close up lens.  Yeah, can you fed ex us the rest of our shit?”  The guy that drew the short straw to make that call must have got hit by a car or something.

In any case, I think the close-ups will play better at home as the images of people’s faces won’t be so giant and will be less… I dunno, invasive.

Other Visual Style Weirdness
WINDOWS:  For some reason, Hooper is totally obsessed with shooting his actors in close-ups and through windows – preferably at the same time.  This is a brief list of shots that appear in Les Mis.

  1. Here’s young Cosette as shot through the inn window!
  2. Here’s older Cosette as shot through the window of her house!
  3. Here’s Jean Valjean as shot through a window!
  4. Here’s Jean Valjean as shot through the window of a coach!
  5. Here’s Jean Valjean as shot through a broken window!

After I while, I just want to shake Tom Hooper by the lapels and scream in his face (since he made a two and half hour movie with people singing in mine), “Yes, there are windows in your movie!  I see them!  Various different types of windows with your actors on the other side, shot in close up!  I get it.  Now fucking break into some coverage, damn it!”

Javert – the foot fetish & suicide:  Why was Javert always walking around on top of a building or something?  I guess that’s where he likes to go for perspective…  And why did they keep showing us his feet on a ledge?  Was that foreshadowing?  I thought it was just weird.  And when he finally did jump, that’s the moment Hooper decides to break into a tiny bit of coverage and show his body hit… whatever, something in the water, and then they added a grisly sound effect.  That CRUNCH felt out of character for this movie.  I literally threw up my hands in dismay and confusion in the middle of the theater.

les-misérables-russel-crowe

Handheld camera & Dutch angles:  I think I made it clear that I’m not in love with almost the entire movie being shot in close up, but then, just to make it more annoying, the movie seems to shot with handheld cameras on shoulder packs.  Can a brother get a steady cam?  If you don’t know and you’re curious, the difference is when you video something and it shakes all over the place as opposed to a film crew with a budget bigger than the show Cops and actual equipment that prevents a crappy image like that.
These dues are French, not British – what’s with the Dutch angles?  That’s a bad joke, but… I don’t know.  The Dutch angles seemed just as out-of-place here as they did in Thor.  Hopefully, this isn’t a trend.  I think the film makers were aware of Dutch Angles because they learned about it in college, but they must have skipped class and got high the day they talked about when and why to use them!

No age makeup for the leads?
Les Mis takes place in four different time periods:

  1. Right after Jean Valjean gets out of jail
  2. Years later when he meets Fantine and Cosette
  3. Years later when Cosette is a young woman/the failed revolution
  4. Months later when Cosette marries Marius and Jean Valjean dies

Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe are in all of the time periods – well, Crowse isn’t in the last one because of CRUNCH, but otherwise, the movie runs over the course of maybe a 25 year period.  Here was their solution for showing the passage of time on these two actors during the 4 time periods:

  1. Right after JeanValjean gets out of jail
    1. Jackman:  no makeup, crazy beard, no hair.  He’s been in prison of 19 years, so he’s supposed to look ragged, They could have aged him down, though.
    2. Crowe:  nothing, really – it’s just Russell Crowe with some partial facial hair.
  2. Years later when he meetsFantine andCosette
    1. Jackman:  he just looks like Hugh Jackman.  He doesn’t look older or anything.
    2. Crowe:  he looks the same.  HE IS AN IMMORTAL!
  3. Years later whenCosette is a young woman/the failed revolution
    1. Jackman:  His hair is longer than it was in the last time period – otherwise, that’s it.
    2. Crowe:  now he has a full beard.  That’s it.
  4. Months later whenCosette marries Marius and JeanValjean dies
    1. Jackman:  he looks the same as the previous time period, but he’s supposed to be dying.  I guess that, around his eyes, he does look a bit red or something, but just a few months ago, he was carrying Marius on his back through the town – now he’s dying and he looks the same?

So… uhm… bravo there.

Where’s the ensemble at?
One of the biggest strengths of Les Mis is not just the melodies, but the power of and arrangement of the ensemble numbers and here is where the movie totally drops the ball.  We can sort of hear the ensemble in “At the end of the day” and we get a few chords during that “Red, Black” song (which I think happened by accident – we only hear all the richness of the ensemble’s tone because the actors were trapped in a small room), but the rest of the ensemble moments were basically murdered.  “Master of the House” was especially disappointing.

Performances
Meh. They’re OK.  Nothing special (except Hathaway), nothing embarrassing.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean:  The Wolverine works his ass off, but some of the songs are out of his range and it shows.  Still, he mostly carries the movie, so he deserves a lot of credit for his performance.

Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert:  He’s fine… you know, fine.  His singing is… you know, fine.

Anne Hathaway as Fantine:  HOLY FUCKING SHIT.  We’ll come back to this one.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette:  Meh.  That lady’s singing has a certain bird like quality I admire, but the character is lame, so she doesn’t have much to do.  She really tries to sell it when Jean Valjean dies, but I kinda wasn’t buying.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Thénardier:  Meh.  Like many in the cast, he couldn’t decide if he was supposed to be French or British, but most of the actors wouldn’t change their accents mid scene.

Helena Bonham Carter as Madame Thenardier:  HBC is a terrific actor, but I am sick of her “I’m doing a wacky voice/character!” thing that she does.  She’s doing the same thing here that she does in the  Harry Potter series and I’m tired of it.  Open up a new bag of tricks, HBC.  Please.

Eddie Redmayne as Marius:  He’s ok.  Not sure I loved his singing, but it’s certainly not bad.  Even more so than Cosette, Marius is just kinda thrust upon us.  Later, when he sings the song about the empty chairs and tables, it’s awkward to spend all this time with him, and the closeup makes it too intimate for this guy we don’t really know – not to mention the fact that if they were begging, borrowing or stealing furniture for the barricade, why would there be any tables and chairs left at the place where they used to meet – just outside of where they built the barricade?  Anyway, that wasn’t his fault, but he didn’t bring anything to the table that made me excited about his performance.

Aaron Tveit as Enjolras:  Who?  Was he the dude with the big curly hair?  No idea.

Samantha Barks as Eponine:  This chick can sing – Well done.  (Also, her last name is ‘Barks,’ which I like.)  Because Barks and Hathaway both sing the signature Les Mis songs, it invites a comparison between the two, and while Barks doesn’t quite live up to Hathaway’s act I example, she still does a nice job.

What’s with the finale?
So I guess.. the barricade that appears at the end of the film is… in the future?  When the revolution happens for real, maybe?  That’s why it’s gigantic?  (Kinda like the sorta thing you’d see in a movie…)  And why are some of the dead characters on the barricade, but others only get to look from afar?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for all of the dead people to be looking at the barricade, like they’re seeing the future from heaven or something?  I just couldn’t’ figure out what I was looking at.
Sure was pretty, though.

There is good stuff!
As much as I bitch, I did generally like the movie.  Jackman does a nice job carrying the lion’s share, even if he couldn’t handle all of the songs in the bad ass way I’d prefer (which kinda sucks since the show is an opera), but whatever.  And it’s Les Mis, so I sorta know the story anyway, and the melodies are spectacular.  And the film’s manic pace helps keep the running time from grating at you too much…  although I have to say, just like when Chicago broke out that “Mr. Cellophane” song, Les Mis kinda grinds to a halt during the lengthy “Empty Chairs/Empty Tables” thingy.  Still, mostly good stuff.

les-misérables-anne-hathaway-i-dreamed-a-dream

THIS!!! I can see the snot in Anne Hathaway’s nose in this scene!

Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway positively CRUSHED IT and kinda steals the movie in the style of Alec Baldwin in Glen Gary/Glen Ross, although Hathaway is in Les Misérables a bit more than Baldwin is in Glen.  Her performance is everything you heard about and more and her rendition of “I dreamed a dream” is off the fucking hook.  The Academy Awards people should change the Oscar statue for best supporting actress to a bust of Hathaway dunking a basketball.

Whew!
I think that’ll do it.  I hope you found this entertaining and informative.   =)

I HAD MERCY ON YOU, DEAR READER!
I considered starting the review as follows.  If you would have stopped reading immediately, I would have understood.

At the end of the day, I’ll review Les Misérables – from a castle on a cloud, but only on my own.  I’m the master of the house, so I will bring it on home now.

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About Jamie Insalaco

Jamie Insalaco is the author of CreativeJamie.com, BomberBanter.com and editor in chief of ComicBookClog.com

Posted on January 18, 2013, in movie review and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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