johnlink ranks LES MISERABLES (2012)

This is a movie I’d anticipated seeing and had high hopes for. Though, in full disclosure, I knew absolutely nothing of the story whatsoever going in. I knew there was a guy who uses his first name in his last name and that people would be singing. End of list. That’s how I prefer to see something anyway, so I was excited to put this on.

2012-blog-les-mis-gavroche

I watched LES MISERABLES (2012) on 5.30.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

I hate to get all personal in these reviews, but I think this merits it. I’m a guy who has a BA in theatre performance and an MA in theater education. Despite that, I have never been someone who throws themselves into musicals. I respect them, I can enjoy them, but they have never been my passion. When I do see a musical, I highly prefer story to musicality. This isn’t to say a musical can’t just entertain and get out, but I tend to think of those musicals the way the Academy Awards consider a Farrelly Brothers movie: We may all like it, we may all enjoy it, it may even be considered a ‘classic’, but it doesn’t bear the same weight as something that is NOT a Farrelly Brothers movie.

I think that is all important to note because when I say that LES MISERABLES has an absolutely incredible story, I don’t say it lightly. Themes of power of age-old themes of sacrifice, loyalty, honor, and love stand triumphantly throughout the story (I’ll spare a synopsis, since I am probably the last person who has not seen this or read this in any form). The singing is not something I have to look past or get through. In this film the singing is the state of reality in which the characters exist and it is their basic mode of communication.

None of that would work, mind you, if the performances of those characters weren’t stellar. Hugh Jackman is an incredible Jean Valjean (with the caveat that he is the ONLY Jean Valjean I have ever seen). He tells story with his entire self and it comes through in his singing. Anne Hathaway, who I have come to sour on somewhat the more I see her in interviews, gives a strong performance as the doomed mother Fantine. Aiding her is the Direction of Tom Hooper, who lets her sing “I Dreamed a Dream” with nary a cut.

And the direction in this is superb. Hooper tells this post-French-revolution story with drive. He pops from one moment to the next without much air, creating the feeling of a cohesive unit rather than individual songs. He also took the standard-shattering approach of having the actors sing and record live with a piano accompanying them in their ear. The piano worked off of them, allowing them to live the song out as they wished, rather than being married to the sound it ‘should’ be. This is in stark contrast to just about every Hollywood musical ever made where the soundtrack is prerecorded and the actors then lip-sync their performance.

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And, back to the performances, this works throughout. Newcomer to the screen, Samantha Barks, is heartbreaking as Eponine (pictured above), a role which a lesser script would sidecar as a villain. While people speak of Hathaway’s strong performance, Barks’ Eponine is the true tragedy of the story. She elevates the script to a higher level in the fact that she represents the part of the story most stories leave out.

And then we have Russell Crowe as real villain Javert. Much was made of his casting. He is not a singer. Why put a non-singer in a singing role? His performance has been dismissed by some and panned by others. It is an interesting thing, and it gets to the heart of what a musical is.

Technically speaking, Russell Crowe doesn’t nail any of his songs when it comes to vocal performance. For many, this is an insurmountable obstacle to enjoying his performance, a barricade made of something far stronger than old furniture. For me, his performance is more than the singing (which doesn’t bother me even if it is not perfect). Physically and emotionally he is wonderfully present. His voice doesn’t bother me because I don’t NEED him to be a singer. I need him to be a character. Again, I see musical as story first and music second. A friend of mine rightfully pointed out that you can have both, and I don’t disagree. But I don’t know that the character of Javert NEEDS to be vocally flawless.

les-miserables-screenshot-russell-crowe

Javert is a man of action. In a world where people sacrifice for each other and do good deeds for each other, he is a man who cannot come to grips with anything of the sort. He’d rather die than do a good dead, quite literally. He is the guy who isn’t comfortable in a world where people express themselves in song. I found myself moved by Crowe’s performance without even caring whether he hit notes, or found his range, or did the things a singer is supposed to do in a song.

But I get it. I get the backlash. It is similar to people who get angry when a movie doesn’t adhere closely to a book. Those who haven’t read the book roll their eyes and say ‘shut up about the book already’. I would be hypocritical if I pretended I haven’t been on both sides of that argument. The source material DOES sometimes matter to us, one of a myriad reasons why art is a subjective experience. Without having twenty-seven Javerts to compare Russell Crowe to, I have no problem with his performance while certainly leaving room for the idea that someone better might have been cast.

But enough about Russell Crowe.

LES MISERABLES is an event film. It is powerful. Very few flaws present themselves from my vantage point. The part of me which does not love all musicals found myself wanting it to move along a little in the second act (and I mean that in film terms, not stage terms) between Valjean finding Cosette and the Revolution battle. I was worried that this was going to be entirely humorless until Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his Madame (Helena Bonham Carter) showed up. Both of those actors are people I’ve loved and loathed. They were a needed shot in the arm here, both in terms of the script and the energy of the film. Some of the special effects were surprisingly weak in the close-up to long shot transitions and in the establishing shots of the cities, but never to the extent that it pulled from the story.

Overwhelmingly, though, this LES MISERABLE is a good experience. Speaking of the story itself, having seen just this version (and having seen it just once) I can already see why this is regarded as one of the great musicals of all time.

SCORES (What is this?)

FILM: 9; MOVIE: 7; ACTING: 9; WRITING: 9; BONUS: 1

Come on, I can’t not give this a bonus point for the music. Though the writing score considers the lyrics, there must be some consideration for the wonderful musicality of this film.

9+7+9+9+1=35

FINAL SCORE: 8.75 out of 10

 

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~ by johnlink00 on May 31, 2014.

One Response to “johnlink ranks LES MISERABLES (2012)”

  1. Usually not a big musical fan, but somehow, this one really worked for me in every which way possible. Had me sobbing like a baby, too. Good review John.

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