STARRING Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen DIRECTED BY Tom Hooper SCREENPLAY Victor Hugo (Novel), Claude-Michel Schonberg (Book), Alain Boublil (Orig. Text), Jean-Marc Natel (Orig. Text), James Fenton (Additional Text), Herbert Kretzmer (Lyrics), William Nicholson (Screenplay) MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 157 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Universal Pictures
"Les Miserables" is Occasionally Sublime, Occasionally Maddening
Within moments of its opening credits, I found myself completely immersed within the world of Les Miserables, the long-awaited cinematic endeavor brought to reality by Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech).
Then, I was jerked away.
Then, I was immersed again.
Then, I was jerked away again.
Then, I was immersed again.
Then, I was jerked away again.
Les Miserables is a 157-minute film. That's a lot of jerking. I'm either a chicken or immensely satisfied.
Actually, I'm neither.
There are certain truths which should already be acknowledged. Les Miserables will be nominated for Best Picture in the Academy Awards, though undeservedly so. Hugh Jackman will deservedly be nominated for Best Actor and, barring the belated arrival of the end of the world, Anne Hathaway will win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Russell Crowe? In all likelihood, he will receive a massively undeserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor during a year when there are far superior performances to his worthy of nomination.
It also goes without saying that Les Miserables will receive an abundance of nominations in technical areas and, in all likelihood, will take home at least a few golden statuettes.
Is Les Miserables really an award-worthy film?
Les Miserables is a good film with occasional flashes of magnificence, a film helmed by a director who is damn well determined to create a cinematic masterpiece where there is actually none to be found. Les Miserables starts off wondrously and ends quite beautifully, but in between its bookends is revealed to be a film that doesn't quite live up to its epic and grand nature.
Les Miserables starts off brilliantly, mostly because we're treated to the film's master performance by Anne Hathaway as Fantine. Her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is nothing short of astounding, a performance that was captured live during film and which benefits greatly from Hathaway's willingness to become vulnerable and surrendered. Jackman, while a good but lesser singer than Hathaway, also performs beautifully in these opening scenes as Jean Valjean. For those unfamiliar with the story, Valjean is a man who was imprisoned for 20 years for stealing bread to feed his family in 19th century France. When he is finally released, he is initially bitter yet becomes pious when shown an act of tremendous mercy by a priest. That act of mercy causes Valjean to turn away from his criminal ways and dedicate his life to helping others, a commitment that is most powerfully expressed through his dedication to raising Fantine's daughter Cosette (played as a young woman by Amanda Seyfried). Despite turning away from crime, Valjean is relentlessly harassed by Javert (Russell Crowe), a policeman whose commitment to busting Valjean for violating his parole is relentless.
It should be noted, lest I assume everyone knows, that Les Miserables is a musical based upon the novel by Victor Hugo.
I mean a serious musical. This is not Rock of Ages, but a true cinematic adaptation of a Broadway musical in every sense of the word. With 50 songs performed over the course of the film's nearly three hour running time, Les Miserables is not a film that compromises its stage roots.
Jackman succeeds tremendously and certainly warrants a Best Actor nomination (though a win would be tremendously disappointing), however, much of this may very well be because Jackman has already learned how to play larger-than-life. While his vocals occasionally fall just a tad short, Jackman has a tremendous screen presence and it's quite clear that he's also comfortable with stage work.
The same cannot be said for Russell Crowe, whose singing style here could best be described as something closer to a spoken word performance with rhythm. Crowe, who certainly has experience in the music world, seems almost uncomfortable at times with the way that Hooper is shooting the film and his scenes with Hathaway's Fantine are almost painful because of how out of his element he seems when the two are side-by-side. Crowe actually benefits greatly from Fantine's eventual departure, a departure that leaves him far more able to hold his own alongside the rest of the ensemble cast. While Crowe seems quite likely to receive an Oscar nomination, Eddie Redmayne as a young idealist with whom Valjean becomes involved would be much more worthy.
Amanda Seyfried is hit-and-miss as Cosette, while Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are disappointingly ineffective as the film's comic relief. The film's other really strong singer is Samantha Barks as Eponine, whose performance of "One Day More" is marvelous even if it's not particularly well shot by D.P. Danny Cohen.
In fact, despite the grandness of every aspect of Les Miserables, it's Cohen's cinematography that so often creates a jarring and unsettling feeling in scenes that should be intimate and powerful. It's really unexpected given Cohen's graceful and reverent camera work in The King's Speech, but here he seems out of his element in trying to capture the humanity beneath the songs being brought to life.
Nearly all of Les Miserable's inconsistencies and flaws are forgiven when the film moves towards its closing, a closing as epic and intimate and wonderful as the film's opening 30-45 minutes and a closing that will almost undoubtedly have you leaving the theater having nearly forgotten the film's second act struggles.
Les Miserables is a good film, an emotionally resonant and satisfying film that should please a good majority of the stage production's fans while also pleasing the fans of virtually anyone in the cast (except Crowe). It's hard not to admire Hooper's boldness of vision and experimental nature, but too often the film's epic nature is emphasized over the power of its intimacy and emotions. Les Miserables will, it goes without saying, receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. That's a shame, really, because this is a good film that should have been a masterpiece.