Back to Potter goodness in a bit. I saw this last night and considering my overall opinion on it, plus the fact it’s been nominated for countless awards, I deemed it worth interrupting my Potterthon for. Same will probably happen for Life of Pi in a few days.
Les Misérables (2013)
When it comes to favourite movie musicals, there are only two possible options when it comes to answering as a stereotypical, media propagated blokey bloke. 1) “Sweeney Todd was alright” (I think the Burton-ness and all the throat slittings help with the man-cred of this one) and 2) “Musicals? Fuck off, love – I’m watching Top Gear“. If you were to ask me, a proud unstereotypical lad with crippling nerdlinger addictions, I would say “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and then desperately ask you not to tell anyone. I’m no musical expert but I’ve seen a few. I knows what I likes and Les Misérables is definitely one of the best musicals I’ve seen.
19th Century France. Hugh Jackman plays the convict Jean Valjean, a man who was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his family and forced to work as a slave for nineteen years. He finishes his sentence but it warned by prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) that he is to be on parole for the rest of his life and if he misses a hearing, he’ll go back in the le slammer. Valjean runs away, skips parole but eventually finds God and turns his life around, becoming the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer under a new identity. After he makes a promise to the dying Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to look after her daughter, Cosette (Isabelle Allen, later Amanda Seyfried), Valjean must run again after the tenacious Javert finds out his true identity and vows to lock him up once more.
Full disclosure time- I’ve never seen Les Misérables in any form. I knew the basic story and several of the songs by osmosis, but never sought it out. So if you’re here to find out how faithful it is to the book/play/downloadable app/lunchbox then I’m afraid I can’t help you. What I will say is this: it’s easy to see how this is one of the longest-running musicals ever. It’s a classic tale that involves everything from war, resistance and hate to love, dreams and redemption. It’s an epic ride. Hugh Jackman once again proves there’s more to him than adamantium claws by giving a career highlight performance as Jean Valjean. He’s bloody brilliant. Russell Crowe is fine as a screen presence, but his voice isn’t up to the notoriously difficult Les Mis numbers. He sounds like an ageing pub rock singer. It doesn’t spoil the film though. It just sounds like he’s trying too hard to strain out those notes, especially compared to some of the other voices in the film. Film-stealer and dead cert Oscar winner though is Anne Hathaway who gives a heartbreaking turn as Fantine. She’s absolutely incredible. Her version of I Dreamed a Dream shows how the song should be sung. It’s powerful stuff. The cast are all fantastic, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Samantha Barks as Éponine. I shall begin my official wooing of her tomorrow.
Director Tom Hooper is gunning for your parents’ DVD collection. Just look at his last couple of flicks. The Damned United (for the Dad who is a massive Cloughhead), The King’s Speech (probably more of a Mumsy film) and now Les Mis. It’s a weird thing to say, I know. My point is that he’s a damn fine director and I’ve enjoyed all of the films mentioned above. It’s a slight shame that I found the way he shot Les Mis to be quite juvenile. Every so often there were big ol’ swooping shots of the French scenery accompanied by whooshing noises. I’d expect that from a Spider-Man flick (the swooping, not the Frenchiness), but not here. The brief bursts of action are shot in a shakycam-like style, resulting in me having no fucking idea what was meant to be happening. Personal gripes though, I don’t think it matters too much. Whilst I’m on criticism, I’ve read that people find the story between Cosette and Marius (Eddie Redmayne) to be too drippy and flimsy, pointing out that all they need is a shared song to fall completely in love with each other. Here’s where I show my vulnerable underbelly when it comes to musicals, but aren’t they supposed to be like that? Isn’t a shared song with harmonies shorthand for the whole courting thing? I’d much prefer one love song that several numbers like “Third date/and I want to stick it to her/ I’m insecure/can I call her my GF?” anyway.
Whilst I may have a problem with how brief moments were shot, the decision to have the cast sing live and set and record that is a fantastic one. Often in musicals, I find there’s a disconnect between the big numbers and the rest of the film, almost as if someone backstage has to press play on the CD player. Here it’s not an issue and it gives the songs a sense of spontaneity and realism. The sheer number of songs probably helps with this too as the spoken dialogue is pretty sparse throughout. It’s pretty much wall-to-wall warbling and that’s a great thing in the film’s favour.
To be honest, I was completely swept up by Les Misérables. It’s not totally perfect, but as far a big, epic musicals go, it’s the best I’ve seen. I loved it and I don’t care if that makes me a battyman gaylord.