It's been a big year for movies and for movie hype, as evidenced in the sheer, ridiculous amount of revenue The Avengers was able to pull, despite being a mediocre popcorn flick. Another movie that could have fallen into the hype machine is Tom Hooper's film adaptation of the famed stage musical Les Misérables, which is based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same name. Luckily, for Hooper (who is riding closely on the lines of being a little too proud of his work), his film has a little more clout than the superhero fest from the summer.
Though I studied theatre, I haven't had as much exposure to the stage as one would think. And, in this case, I think that's a good thing. Having never seen the stage musical and being only familiar with two of the soundtrack's songs, I didn't go into this film watching experience with many expectations. The hype from the critic's viewings made it sound like it was the film to beat. That is, until Zero Dark Thirty screened the following week. While no one cheered during the film, there was a steady applause as the credits began to roll at the end.
Hooper, whose last outing The King's Speech was a Best Picture winner, does a pretty great job of making the world work as a musical. Incorporating the much-publicized use of "live singing" as opposed to pre-recorded tracks did allow for some pretty stellar performances. Anne Hathaway's Fantine is an incredible display of human rawness. Her version of "I Dreamed a Dream" is bone-thin, like her sickly figure, and emotional. Tissues came out as the audience ate it up. Hugh Jackman was powerful as the film's hero Jean Valjean and wore the torment and growth that true redemption and grace can bring on a man as he tries to reinvent his life each time it's put to the brink. Russell Crowe was the weak link in the ensemble. His sing-song lines came across as too trying and his voice didn't match the power or emotions of the rest of the cast. The supporting players were where Hooper was really lucky. Stage veteran Samantha Barks was perfectly cast as Éponine and Eddie Redmayne might have made himself a star as Marius. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helene Bonham Carter try their hardest to steal each scene they're in, but they ended up becoming throw away portions of the film, and the only parts I felt didn't quite fit the final product.
There were a few moments when I felt like the action could have progressed a little faster, and once we learned of the love between Marius and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), it felt cheap to continue going back to other characters that weren't as important.
The scope of the musical, I'm sure, is what sells it as the epic piece it's known as. I am curious to see how they portray the French Revolution and battle sequences on stage. As a film, I can see how it could come across as almost a let down. Hooper chooses to focus more on the facial expressions (through countless close-ups) and the lyrical expressions in each line.
As a film, it definitely works, though it probably works better on stage. As performers, each actor dives as much in their role as they can. Hathaway is a lock-in for Best Supporting Actress and the film, itself, is deserving of the many nominations it gets. Though, if the film walks away with the Best Picture win, I'll be a little disappointed. It will be watched for years and years, but is it the year's best? Hardly.
Runtime: 157 min.