Review: ‘Les Miserables’
With a scale as large as the musical source material and the novel that preceded it, paring ‘Les Miserables’ down to a two hour and forty minute movie was no easy task. Whether it’s the lengthy, sung soliloquies or the sweeping, multi-generational narrative that takes a literal and figurative lifetime to tell, fitting it all in may never have been an achievable goal. You couldn’t have it all could you? Tom Hooper does his best to and puts forward an effort that may be the best adaptation of the musical that could have been, but only at times does it truly soar.
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Recording live vocals, while novel, becomes a double-edged sword for the film. Immediately the performances excel over their genre counterparts. The cast’s choices do make a difference, with the connection between acting and singing becoming clear and visible. You can tell the singing you are hearing is directly linked to the performance you are watching. It allows Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Samantha Barks and Sacha Baron Cohen to elevate the piece beyond its proscenium. But therein lies the issue. Almost if not all of the film feels like artifice. Rarely does Hooper’s revolutionary France seem like a real place. Whether that’s due to the budget or the restrictions of recording live performance (relying on sound stages) is unclear, but in the end, the film plays like little more than a stage show with four walls instead of three.
(As a side note: We’re told on screen of the passage of time with year title cards, but the makeup and performance tell a different story. The scope of years doesn’t play as strongly as it should.)
That’s not to say Hooper, cinematographer Danny Cohen and production designer Eve Stewart don’t do all they can to blow the walls open. There is a sense of grandeur and scale that appears on screen. Dark, dirty interiors sporadically give way to breathable exteriors, just enough to tease you with a time and place. There is an immense eye for detail and (enlarged) human emotion. The walls are just as grimy as the faces of the actors and when we do step away from those close-up solo numbers, the creative team put forth impressive, dynamic battles, choreography and action. Forgivable then are those soliloquized songs that rely on their albiet beautiful melodies and performances to carry them, over any kind of action or camera movement.
Anne Hathaway just singing to camera for minutes on end with essentially no camera movement and no discernible action, while perfect for the stage, should not work on film. And yet, it does thanks to her talent. While it may have been nice for every number to have some kind of visual give and take, a gamble is taken on the faces and the singing being enough — and often it is. Especially for Hathaway and Barks, who walk off with the movie in grand fashion. (Though was it the material they were given or their performances?) Of course, they’re taking it from the back of Hugh Jackman who carries it throughout. And it would be remiss to not mention Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit, who all sell their characters with panache and oomph. 
(Amanda Seyfried does her best with a non-character. And Russel Crowe though well cast is playing catch up the whole time both in the story and performance.)
It’s a wonder that ‘Les Miserables’ made it to the screen as intact as it is. It’s a version that sticks closely to its source material, and much for the better. It never takes that full leap from the theater into a tangible, believable world, but this, let’s call it, “cinematic staging” of ‘Les Miserables,’ hits many of the right marks. Hoping for more than that may have been impossible.

Review: ‘Les Miserables

With a scale as large as the musical source material and the novel that preceded it, paring ‘Les Miserables’ down to a two hour and forty minute movie was no easy task. Whether it’s the lengthy, sung soliloquies or the sweeping, multi-generational narrative that takes a literal and figurative lifetime to tell, fitting it all in may never have been an achievable goal. You couldn’t have it all could you? Tom Hooper does his best to and puts forward an effort that may be the best adaptation of the musical that could have been, but only at times does it truly soar.

Recording live vocals, while novel, becomes a double-edged sword for the film. Immediately the performances excel over their genre counterparts. The cast’s choices do make a difference, with the connection between acting and singing becoming clear and visible. You can tell the singing you are hearing is directly linked to the performance you are watching. It allows Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Samantha Barks and Sacha Baron Cohen to elevate the piece beyond its proscenium. But therein lies the issue. Almost if not all of the film feels like artifice. Rarely does Hooper’s revolutionary France seem like a real place. Whether that’s due to the budget or the restrictions of recording live performance (relying on sound stages) is unclear, but in the end, the film plays like little more than a stage show with four walls instead of three.

(As a side note: We’re told on screen of the passage of time with year title cards, but the makeup and performance tell a different story. The scope of years doesn’t play as strongly as it should.)

That’s not to say Hooper, cinematographer Danny Cohen and production designer Eve Stewart don’t do all they can to blow the walls open. There is a sense of grandeur and scale that appears on screen. Dark, dirty interiors sporadically give way to breathable exteriors, just enough to tease you with a time and place. There is an immense eye for detail and (enlarged) human emotion. The walls are just as grimy as the faces of the actors and when we do step away from those close-up solo numbers, the creative team put forth impressive, dynamic battles, choreography and action. Forgivable then are those soliloquized songs that rely on their albiet beautiful melodies and performances to carry them, over any kind of action or camera movement.

Anne Hathaway just singing to camera for minutes on end with essentially no camera movement and no discernible action, while perfect for the stage, should not work on film. And yet, it does thanks to her talent. While it may have been nice for every number to have some kind of visual give and take, a gamble is taken on the faces and the singing being enough — and often it is. Especially for Hathaway and Barks, who walk off with the movie in grand fashion. (Though was it the material they were given or their performances?) Of course, they’re taking it from the back of Hugh Jackman who carries it throughout. And it would be remiss to not mention Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne and Aaron Tveit, who all sell their characters with panache and oomph. 

(Amanda Seyfried does her best with a non-character. And Russel Crowe though well cast is playing catch up the whole time both in the story and performance.)

It’s a wonder that ‘Les Miserables’ made it to the screen as intact as it is. It’s a version that sticks closely to its source material, and much for the better. It never takes that full leap from the theater into a tangible, believable world, but this, let’s call it, “cinematic staging” of ‘Les Miserables,’ hits many of the right marks. Hoping for more than that may have been impossible.

  1. thismaybeawasteoftime reblogged this from popculturebrain
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  6. oblogatory reblogged this from popculturebrain and added:
    yep
  7. petty5766 reblogged this from popculturebrain
  8. chelseatwentysomething reblogged this from popculturebrain and added:
    this sums up more or less what i thought about the movie. it was a really valiant effort, but ultimately i think it was...
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  10. irisistable reblogged this from popculturebrain and added:
    Perfect review.
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  17. meenoos reblogged this from popculturebrain and added:
    can’t wait #Les_Miserables
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