Saturday, 15 December 2012
FILM REVIEW: LES MISERABLES
Opens Boxing Day
The King Speech director Tom Hooper's film version of the stage musical Les Miserables had been one of my most anticipated films of the Australian 2012-2013 summer ever since seeing the first teaser trailer which featured Anne Hathaway singing I Dreamed A Dream, the song non-musical people will know as the one made famous by Susan Boyle when she appeared on Britain's Got Talent.
I'm not a stage musical aficianado, don't see that many stage musicals (I haven't seen one in over 18 months), and I've never seen Les Miserables. But I was prepared for a film epic in scope and intimate in emotion. I was also prepared for a musical.
But Hooper's Les Miserables isn't just a film musical, it's a 'MUSICAL!'. Everything is big, loud and sung. Every word, every sentence, every dying gasp is sung. And every song is sung live. The marketing for this film adaptation of the popular stage musical has been at pains to inform and remind us of this fact: the actors did not lip synch, they sung live.
Hooper's intent with this conceit was to capture the raw emotion of each performance in the moment yet for me, that is exactly what Les Miserables lacks: any real emotion. The film never broke through the fourth wall for me; not even the highly praised, one-take rendition of I Dreamed A Dream by Hathaway, malnourished and crudely cropped as the tragic Fantine, could squeeze a single tear from my eye (honestly, I'm more moved watching Ms Boyle's YouTube clip).
Opening in the years following the French Revolution, and spanning the decades until the student uprising in the mid 1800s, Les Miserables follows the journey of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread, he's granted parole in the opening scene of the film but warned by his captor, Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), that he be on his best behaviour for he'll be watching.
Valjean does indeed break parole but also has a religious epiphany when a priest shows him kindness. Cut to eight years later, and Valjean, with a name change as well as a change of heart, is now the respected and beloved Mayor of a northern French town. But the arrival of Javert unsettles Valjean, and with good reason. A cross between a bloodhound and the Terminator, Javert recognises Valjean and is not about to let him get away again.
Valjean's preoccupation with Javert sees one of his factory employees, Fantine, a single woman working to pay her daughter's keep with a local innkeeper, dismissed from her position. After selling her hair and teeth, Fantine is reduced to selling her body to get by (cue I Dreamed A Dream). When Valjean discovers her, it's too late for Fantine but not her daughter, Cosette, whom he promises to care for.
Jump forward another nine years and Cosette (now played by Amanda Seyfried) is a beautiful young woman but one who lives a cloistered life with her parole-jumping guardian in Paris. Still she manages to catch the eye, and be still the heart of the young radical, Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who, along with his fellow students, is planning a revolt against the government and the crown.
At the same time that young romance blossoms, helped by Marius's intermediary, Eponine (Samantha Barks), who secretly loves the bourgeois radical, Javert arrives in Paris; the student rebellion will bring he and Valjean face-to-face once more and decide the fates of each of the main characters. Not that I cared.
Having felt very much on the outside looking in for the most part of Les Miserables, by the time events reach their climax - and that takes 157 minutes - I was relieved more than moved. Not that it's all bad. Les Miserables is by no means a terrible film or anywhere near worth being considered one of the year's worst. Disappointing, yes. Diabolique? Non.
Unsurprisingly, Hooper has mounted a handsome production and his cast are uniformly good. Jackman, no stranger to a show tune, is solid as Jean Valjean but if I were an Academy voter, I'd not be ticking his box on my ballot. Ditto Hathaway. Fantine really only has that one big moment and like I said, it didn't move me. Hathaway's Oscar favouritism for Supporting Actress baffles me.
Crowe makes a good fist of Javert, and the one-time part-time rocker puts a bit of gravel into the vocals, while Seyfried lends Cosette a nightingale-like quiver. Barks, a film debutant who has performed the role of Eponine on stage, is effortless though under served, but the real revelation is Redmayne. Star of My Week With Marilyn, and several BBC television productions in the last few years, Redmayne sings with such emotion and gusto that his head shakes.
Ultimately, and unfortunately, Les Miserables is less than the sum of its parts; Hooper's attempt to revolutionise the movie musical falling short like the ambitions of so many student radicals. For all its ambition and effort, it left me with very little to sing about.