Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Jofo @ The Movies: Les Miserables

Lets discuss the good, the bad, and the Russell Crowe of this mega musical

Les Miserables, adapted from the novel of the same name written by Victor Hugo is arguably one of the most popular musicals of all time, rivaling the likes of other large-scale musicals such as Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Rent, as it has enjoyed many years of success on the stage both on Broadway and on tour. I myself have been fortunate to view a production during my senior year of high school, and I enjoyed it immensely, with it's compelling (if contrivance filled) story, and beautifully epic musical score sung by a troupe of dual talented actors/singers.

Jean Valjean is a prisoner serving time for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's dying a child, and his sentence has finally reached its conclusion. Despite his new found freedom, he finds it impossible to find work thanks to the papers that label him a prisoner on parole. In a last attempt to get money Valjean robs a kindly priest's chapel of its valuable silver, only to be recaptured by the police and brought back to the chapel to be identified by the priest; however the priest tells the police that he gave Valjean the silver and then makes Valjean promise to use the money he gains from the silver to build himself a new honest life. Moved by the priest's kindness Valjean vows to honor his promise and becomes a wealthy mayor and industrialist, using his power and wealth to help people find work, and give them a fair chance at life.

There's more to the plot, but I can't say anymore for fear of spoiling it for newcomers. Its also hard to criticize the plot since it is an almost straight reuse of the stage show's libretto (with a few spoken lines thrown in). Its a little contrivance filled, but if you liked and have seen the stage show, you'll find the plot compelling.

In a mega-musical like this with such a well known plot, the thing that makes this movie and each production of Les Miserables stand out from each other is the actor's performances, and this film has a slightly mixed bag of performances.

1. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean- As a trained veteran of musical theater it is perfectly natural that were such high expectations for Mr. Jackman...and for the most part he meets them. While he does hit a few stumbling blocks with certain songs like Bring Him Home (which can blamed on the song's relocation) he really sells the part in the acting department. I honestly hope he at least gets a nomination for best actor.

2. Russell Crow as Inspector Javert-... This was perhaps the WORST part of the movie, and it honestly makes me sad. Russell Crow appearance-wise fits the part of Javert...but not vocally. Russell Crowe's grainy, folky singing voice is a horrible fit for the character and as a result all of his solo numbers are PAINFUL to listen to.

3. Anne Hathaway as Fantine- Simply amazing! Ms. Hathaway gives one of the most intense performances I have ever seen in a film. Her performance of I Dreamed a Dream is one of the most heart rending things I have seen in a while. Definitely got her pegged for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

The other performances all range from very decent (Amanda Seyfried as Cosette) to incredibly good (Eddie Redmayne as Marius and Samantha Barks as Eponine). Overall the ensemble cast is well chosen, but the overall quality is hurt by the weak link that is Russell Crowe.

The set-pieces in this film are quite amazing and the director made the great choice of  having just the actor on camera during the solo number such as Bring Him Home, and I Dreamed a Dream. However where Les Miserables disappoints is in how constrained and claustrophobic the shots feel. The stage show is known for this huge, larger than life ensemble and crowd scenes, this movie feels like they've been squeezed into a tiny box. In all fairness though, this is a problem with transitioning shows from stage to film, even with Oscar winners such as Chicago.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the theater to see this movie, and I do recommend people to go see it, however it is just a mere shadow of what it could have been. I went in expecting to see the next greatest movie musical of all time, and was a little disappointed. However if you're looking for a good musical experience then this makes a good matinee or even an evening show.

Could have been much better, but the constrained shots, and Russell Crowe's abysmal performance forces me to take several points off.

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