LES MISERABLES (Tom Hooper, 2012)
One of the reasons why we go and see a movie is because it appeals to our emotions. From the way the trailer was made and released a couple of months back, Tom Hooper's big-screen adaptation of LES MISERABLES wanted to tug our heartstrings. However, promises made sometimes do not equate to promises fulfilled. Heavens forbid, this movie could be this year's SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, or SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.
Opening with an underwater shot and cut to a number of rugged inmates pulling the ropes of a huge boat, we are introduced to convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who is ordered by prison guard Javert (Russell Crowe) to lift and move the wet French flag tied to a heavy wooden log. Valjean does as ordered and showcases a magnificent feat of strength that amuses Javert. Valjean is soon released on parole, but outside life proved harsh as no work would take him on due to his criminal history. His crime: refusal to go hungry. His sentence: 19 years.
The story of LES MISERABLES itself is stirring. Victor Hugo's tale of love, freedom, and injustice captivated millions worldwide since its initial release in 1862. Most members of the audience might remember an earlier version of the movie, helmed by Bille August from a script by Rafael Yglesias which starred Liam Neeson as Valjean and Geoffrey Rush as Javert. Although a number of elements and chronology were altered in August's version, the film was as cinematic as one could wish for. Plus, Neeson is readily believable as a father figure who'd risk his life over his adopted daughter Cosette (Claire Danes). As his archnemesis, Geoffrey Rush makes an iconic Javert, forceful and charismatic with just enough menace to tell you he won't stop until he gets his man.
LES MISERABLES by Tom Hooper, adapted from the Boublil and Schonberg musical is beautifully shot, costumed, designed, and scored (but of course it is a musical, afterall!). The heavy and relentless use of close ups is an advantage over the stage version, plus it enables us to identify with the motivations of every character. But in terms of emotional attachment, LES MISERABLES falls short.
People are yapping on and on about how Hooper's version will make you cry buckets of tears. I guess it is a matter of how you take the movie, or how fast your eyes swell up, but in my anticipated scene where I am supposed to cry- such did not happen. Anne Hathaway gives her Fantine every energy and inspiration, but in her rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream", I failed to connect. Hooper gives his best with the close ups, but the effect wears after a few seconds. The underlying motivation in the book why Fantine "Dreamed A Dream", was lost in translation. Still, I give it to Anne Hathaway for a brave performance.
I almost cried in on scene, the death of the young boy Gavroche. However, the scene quickly cuts into the attacking soldiers that every inch of attachment I had with Gavroche was wiped beyond recognition.
Jackman as Valjean exerts his best effort, and on top of his lungs he sings and the effort is clearly established. Crowe's Javert is very macho, his song delivery leaves much to be desired but when he acts and the camera captures his emotions, he reminds us he is Russell F------ Crowe.
One other problem LES MISERABLES have is the considerable reduction of Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) and Cosette's (Amanda Seyfried) courting moments. It is preposterous beyond belief that a young man and a young woman would readily die for one another upon a single, brief encounter. I've had coffee breaks longer than their courtship stage. No wonder Eponine (Samantha Barks) was a train wreck. As the proverbial third wheel, even she is shocked at the ridiculousness of Cosette and Marius's love.
Poor Amanda Seyfried was totally underused in this movie.
Hooper probably thought that most people would have been familiar with the story of LES MISERABLES, and so important details were not included, such as the significance of Lamarque in the French Revolution, the thrill and exhaustiveness of Cosette and Marius's courtship stage, and the suffering of Fantine. Upon consideration, Uma Thurman makes a more realistic portrayal of a mother with everything stripped from her.
But if Hooper added more to his version, I'm afraid the film will run longer than LORD OF THE RINGS, what with all the singing.
My literary buff friend argues that the festive number "Master of the House" where we are introduced to the Thenardier household is quite off-putting, given that the subject matter of Hugo's novel ought to be dark and depressing, and that a comic relief may be out of place. Me, I'll take them as they come. Besides, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers are perfect breathers from all the singing and introspection.
Hooper's version does offer some fleeting moments of cinematic delight, in all respect. Javert pinning a medal on the body of deceased Gavroche is most astounding. Eddie Redmayne is also superb as Marius.
LES MISERABLES the movie feels like a stage musical brought onscreen, with the costumes, the set design, the spectacle, and the whole gimmickry shebang. It maybe the intended effect, but perhaps it should have paid more attention to story coherence, which starts out with a neat editing. The Liam Neeson headlined version omitted a lot of important moments in the book, but it favored emotion without feeling contrived. This version is over glossed and overlong.