King's Speech director Tom Hooper was certainly the ideal person to helm this adaptation set in 18th century France. He managed to capture some beautiful shots--we see Hugh Jackman against a plain wall with a cross on it, hinting at his religious struggles earlier in the film; Russell Crowe in blue uniform against a nicely juxtaposed red brick wall; and Aaron Tveit's character waving a flag over the city's barricade, it's all a set but the beauty of it is not lost on us.
We also get some nice performances from this A-list cast. Anne Hathaway's interpretation of perhaps the play's most famous tune "I dreamed a dream" was emotional. Amanda Seyfried's voice was tender and delicate, perfectly matching her character's persona. Isabelle Allen, playing Seyfried's younger character was exactly what you would hope for, also tender and evoking the right amount of pity. And Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn), is sure to breakthrough for his performance as a love struck rebel.
"So, Cristina, what's wrong with the movie?" Glad you asked.
Les Miserables fails at a film adaptation: it's too long and in translating it into a film narrative it became less narrative and more of a pre-recorded live Broadway musical. In attempting to capture the songs as direct sound (recorded at the time of filming) the film became so self-indulged in the performances it sacrificed basic technicalities. During long takes the characters moved in and out of focus and camera jerks were noticeable during long tracking sequences. It almost defeated the purpose of preserving or trying to capture these moments. In one scene, Jackman sings a soliloquy in a church--it's his repent for past sins, he wants to start over--but the close-ups, in trying to capture every tear, every bead of sweat, every spit producing vocal, are beyond wearing. Most exhausting of all was Russell Crowe's monotonous baritone voice.
Yeah, you probably guessed it, I don't care for musicals, but I can admire one when it's done right. Cabaret managed to balance song from story, even Sweeney Todd knew when to scale it back. What's wrong with Miserables is its beautiful moments, and there certainly were plenty--I mean the movie was like three frickin' hours long--were lost in the grand spectacle of it all. Almost every scene, every moment, every line of dialogue was milked for a tune. Screenwriter William Nicholson is to blame here. There was a lot that could have been cut out and more that could have been better translated for film, say a couple of normal conversations here or there.
But, as I said, there were some real moments captured here. There's a scene where Jackman's character is singing in a court yard and his vocals are accompanied by a church choir we know to be in the adjacent building--quite beautiful. Although I wasn't completely invested in the story, Jackman was at least believable. And who could hate Hathaway for that performance? Perhaps this is the performance that will earn her a little golden statue.
And I'm not quite sure if it's a compliment to say Sacha Baron Cohen's (The Dictator) scenes were the best part of the movie, but they were. His and Helena Bonham's Carter rendition of "Master of the House" added some much appreciated comic relief and a much needed montage to break up some of the tension from long close-ups throughout.
If you're on board from the get-go, you'll enjoy the proceeding three hours. There's much to be admired here, but ultimately stunning visuals and memorable tunes get lost in the over achievement of replicating a faithful adaptation of this much-loved Broadway hit.