Les Misérables written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, directed by Tom Hooper (Working Title Films, Cameron Mackintosh Ltd., PG-13, 157 minutes)
Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway.
The Airing of Grievances
Before I go into the general plot summary and the merits of this particular musical, I need to air my grievances Seinfeld style. I love music, but I don’t like musicals. Music is very genuine, raw, and emotion-filled by its very nature. To me (I realize most don’t feel this way), it feels very disingenuous and hollow-hearted when someone randomly bursts into song whilst talking the rest of the time. Musicals usually create a new kind of world where reality doesn’t permeate, where song is the standard, rather than an expression of the heart. The Tom Hooper version of Les Misérables doesn’t do this for me; Hooper’s version is emotionally hardcore and genuine. He emotionally charged the film by allowing the actors to do what they do best: act.
The basic premise of the story is this: In 19th century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is finishing up his prison sentence for breaking into a house and stealing a loaf of break for his family. He becomes free in the loosest sense of the term, as he is set on a stringent parole by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). The parole won’t allow him to get employment, but he decides to make another go of it by vanishing. We find him years later living under an assumed identity as the mayor of a small town.
Valjean, always eager to pay it forward, helps factory worker turned prostitute, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to escape her life of misfortune. Upon her death, he saves her young daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen) from an abusive inn / boarding house run by Thénardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his wife (Helena Bonham Carter).
Cosette grows up (Amanda Seyfried) and falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), an active player in the revolution. The challenge for Valjean now becomes how to let go of his little girl while still being pursued by the rather persistent Javert.
The main complaints I’ve heard of this film from others airing their grievances all surround the fact that Hooper does a bad job of directing. There are too many close-ups, there are too many clichéd shots of people singing on balconies. There is an inconsistent wardrobe ranging form stylized and glamorous to extremely gritty. The poor people look like Zombies, the Thénardiers look like they stepped out of a Tim Burton movie, and Russell Crowe sucks at singing.
That’s quite a few complaints. Why, then, are the masses flocking to see this movie and loving every moment that Hooper slings their way?
Singing for Emotion
The actors know how to sing for emotion. Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman take liberties with both melody and timing to illicit pure raw emotion that each viewer can identify with. When Anne Hathaway goes down the darkened path of selling her body to the night, each viewer is able to identify with her in some way. The viewer reminisces of someone they know that is having a rough life, the life they themselves are currently living, or a hard patch they endured a while back. The only complaint I can resonate with is that Russell Crowe is an awful singer. But, this isn’t because he can’t sing, he actually has a nice resonance to his voice. It’s because next to the other actors and actresses who actually take liberties with their voice parts, Crowe sings the part exactly as written without stopping for emotional freedoms. His part is notably hard to do that with, however, as his motif is rhythmically and melodically dry and boring. It’s frankly not entirely his fault.
Now, down to the raw truth. There’s flaws in everything, from people, to books, to this review, all the way to Les Misérables. But, are you going to actually enjoy the thing of beauty that Tom Hooper created, or nitpick at it and kill the joy of it for others? Like I said, I don’t like musicals because they don’t seem real. Tom Hooper‘s Les Misérables is living in shocking technicolor, with raw and pure emotion throughout. The story is fantastic, the acting is incredible, and the singing is (mostly) marvelous. It’s a sure fire win.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
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