Les Misérables

by Tom Hooper. With Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne

Deafening Buzz!

by gaRis (@takisgaris)

Les Misérables is deafening buzz. I repeat: Deafening. Buzz. And the smarmy question penetrates me almost automatically; is it fair to be that dismissive of a film, when your primary duty is to inform and find any merit possible in a work of art? The quick question is, no. Another not so quick would be; I wouldn’t care less. At least I’m honest-no chewing words here. The eagerly anticipated put-onscreen musical, created in 1980 by French men Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, Herbet Kretzmer offering the libretto in English, is based on the classic Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, set in post-revolutionary France. Poverty, social injustice and political despotism are igniting a rebellious, youth-driven unrest, offering hefty background to the everlasting chase between ex-con Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) and Inspector Javert. Obviously this backbone narrative that sprawls around three decades and myriads of parallel stories provides for political as much as philosophical inferences and undertones as it pertains to identity, power and twists of fate associations, however, for Tom Hooper these serve only as an excuse for over the edge sensationalism which could be a very good thing, if the target audience is the musical’s die-hard fans (thanks to whom it ranked third more successful ever in its over 25 years run in Broadway).

Alas, don’t count me in. Tom Hooper, the man who defeated Fincher with The King’s Speech, partially (apart from the unprecedented TWC push) succeeded in doing so by delivering a subtle, well-polished, accurately performed, emotional journey of a monarch, presenting him so handsomely as a commoner. Here he’s crossing every border of humility, by forcing his talented thespians to sing their hearts out, act their butts on display so to speak. Crescendos on repeat and live- singing –while- shooting scenes, is a ballsy choice and a sporadically paid off one, but this grimy superfluous spectacle lies more on the hollow side. 2 ½ hours of bombastic tunes who strive for greatness, only to fall flat on grounds of visual exhibitionism. Nerve cracking close ups right to the actors’ tonsils and endless weeping as if Hooper took the title a tad bit too literally. Editing is choppy, jerky the least, leaving no room for nuanced acting work. The directorial choices are extremely pompous in contrast with the narration which remains inexcusably by the numbers, monotonous and inconsequential.

That being said, there are a few scenes which demand applause. You guessed right, Anne Hathaway’s 10 minute show stopping or even show- toping singing as misery- struck Fantine “I Dreamed a Dream” is heart-breaking although, in fairness it happens thunderously, without real substance as far as characterization goes. In that respect I’d rather vote for Helen Hunt (The Sessions) or even Ann Dowd (Compliance) for the Best Supporting Actress category win, although most definitely Hathaway will have this in a bag comes Oscar night. Many are drawing comparisons with Jennifer Hudson in Showgirls and here we are admittedly detouring in personal taste territory, so personally I wouldn’t go there. On the same note, Hugh Jackman, albeit much praised and awarded for his musical endowments, is a limited range actor and the fact that he’s is the only perfectly cast actor here doesn’t significantly change this. Russell Crowe is deplorably atrocious as Javert, unable to serve his singing and it’s a shame because his acting is leagues away from any other performer in Les Miserables. Honestly, what I enjoyed the most was the winning comedic duo from Burtonian Sweeny Todd, namely Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as thuggish Thernardiers who gave laughing relief from the overall misery- overkill and lest I forget the powerhouse breakthrough of Samantha Barks as Éponine.

Conclusion: Is Les Misérables an oscar frontrunner? No way. A contender maybe? Yes, granted the Academy controlled love for Musicals. Is it recommendable entertainment? I am sure that it will most please the fans and alienate if not infuriate the others. Hooper is drowned by his own ambition, but his case is not unseen of (grunt inserted; Nolan, anyone?) I can see this film dominating the Golden Globes in the Best Musical Category, although there it’ll have to face off Silver Linings Playbook, another big oscar hopeful, all in all an exercise in futility since the Academy is notoriously allergic to award accolades to the Musical/Comedy genre. Besides, there’s that Osama Bin Laden movie that seems unstoppable in its marching for the oscar gold.

World Premiere: 21 December 2012

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