There is a magnificent simplicity to the grandeur of this film. Despite the expansive sets, the overwhelming emotion and the narrative that instills a sense of rebellion, the core is one of resonance, about how the mistake of one man, the action of one individual can ultimately change the lives of many.
How sad it is that lazy camerawork, directing and editing could have derailed such a heartfelt film.
After winning the award for Best Director for The Kings Speech, Tom Hooper was chastised for being too safe in his work, playing it straight more often than not, and it seemed that he unfortunately took those critiques to heart. Good directing can seem effortless, and great directing can be cause for innovation in the field, but bad directing is more often than not jarring and distracting. While it appeared appropriate to choose a tight shot for Anne Hathaway’s moving “I Dreamed a Dream,” it was not so apparent the need to do so for every other solo the cast had. The movie was privileged with beautiful sets. and for the majority of the film and audience would be allowed only a glimpse of them before Hooper’s need to zoom in to the actors nostrils erased any sense of atmosphere. The actors could have been on a sound stage or on location, and for much of the film, barring the excellent “Do You Hear the People Sing” scene, we wouldn’t know any better.
The other major qualm with the film is the editing, which with technology today should be seamless and unapparent to an untrained eye. I’m not one who typically notices anything wrong with the technical side of movies; yet even I, after the film, could envision the editing room as the team pieced together moments. A jump cut does not belong in the middle of an emotion song about lament and survivors guilt; keep the camera steady on the actor.
Luckily enough despite the, frankly, lazy camerawork, this film still worked because of the strength of the actors. The narrative was always going to show its strength in the scenes with Jean Valjean and Fantine more than with the love triangle with Marius, but the actors threw themselves so readily and enthusiastically into their roles that it was easy enough to ignore the bad and simply enjoy watching them act.
We’ve all heard now about Hathaway’s performance, and yes, she is that good. Hugh Jackman, a man who’s been tied with theater work for much of his career, is still widely known as Wolverine first and foremost, so seeing him play a part with such vulnerability and such a lack of vanity is a wonder to watch. Though his tenor can at times be grating, he embodies the character’s physicality and psyche so well that it would be easy to say he was made to play this part.
The best part is how true of an ensemble cast this was. Samantha Barks promises a great future career as she holds her own amongst acting heavyweights, Russell Crowe while undoubtedly the weakest singer of the bunch, still commands a demanding screen presence, and while Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are obviously the comedic elements of the show, their scene of “Master of the House” is so much fun that you wish it had gone on longer. Even Amanda Seyfried with her limited screen time does as much as she can with what typically is a thankless character.
The stand out however, who deserved much more screen time, was Eddie Redmayne as Marius. Although the character is often times paper-thin in terms of depth, Redmayne infused enough charm, enough emotional capacity that whenever he was onscreen it was difficult to take your eyes off of him.
With a running time that dangerously toes the line of three hours, it didn’t feel it. Obviously if you’ve gone your life not enjoying musicals, this isn’t the one to start with. If you’re in love with stage play (and I’ve never seen it), you may find Crowe’s limited range a bit of a slight to the character Javert. If you’ve read Victor Hugo’s book that the plays based off of, you might feel some irritation at how little some of the characters are explored. However, if you’re simply looking for a film that is effortlessly compelling, showcases some of the finest performances of the year that promise at least two breakouts (Barks and Redmayne), and you just love good music, find your way to see this film and enjoy, because it’s one of the best spectacles you could treat yourself to this year.
Les Misérables is now playing everywhere.