Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: William Nicholson, Herbert Kretzmer
Based on: Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg‘s musical which is in turn based on Victor Hugo‘s novel
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, Daniel Huttlestone, Isabelle Allen, Colm Wilkinson
Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has just been released on parole after years in the galleys for stealing some bread. Police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) doesn’t really want to see him go as he doesn’t trust in his rehabilitation. And he almost seems to be right – as Valjean takes the frist chance he gets to steal from a priest (Colm Wilkinson). But when said priest shows him mercy, Valjean takes the chance to build a life for himself, though skipping parole. Years later, he is a successful factory owner and mayor, when Javert comes to his town. At the same time, Valejan gets drawn into the life of one of his factory employees, Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and her little daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen/Amanda Seyfried) and decides to help her.
Les Misérables is pretty epic, as can only be expected from a musical based on a Hugo novel. And while the cast mostly does very well with the epicness, neither Tom Hooper nor cinematographer Danny Cohen were up for the task.
I didn’t know the musical, so I was pretty neutral about the entire film before. But I went into it thinking that I would have the biggest problem with Russell Crowe and his singing. To my surprise, this was far from the case. I mean, Crowe is certainly not the world’s greatest singer, but he doesn’t suck that hard (he also has the best songs of the musical, apart from the one little Cosette sings, so that helps).
What did suck hard, though, was the cinematography. The editing and the direction weren’t great, either, but the cinematography really took the cake. Wonky camera angles, people constantly almost falling out of the frame, the camera adjusting all the time (because it’s off not only position, but also focus – there is one scene where Eddie Redmayne’s in profile and the thing that’s sharp is his ear. Say what?)… it was annoying as hell.
The cast was mostly excellent. I would have expected nothing less from Hugh Jackman. Anne Hathaway proved once more that she can do anything at all and be great at it. Helena Bonham-Carter was great. Samantha Barks is somebody to look out for. But it was especially Isabelle Allen who blew me away. Amazingly talented little singer. But there were weak spots, too: Sacha Baron Cohen was a little too cartoonish for my taste. I don’t know if the songs sung by Amanda Seyfried were supposed to sound that squeaky or if she just struggled with the part, but it sounded awful (and she can actually sing very well, usually).
Put altogether the story was intriguing and the music – while still not my favorite musical – was good, but the film was too long (so long, in fact, that I started drafting a romantic backstory for Javert and Valjean – that actually makes a surprising amount of sense – even though I’m not much of a slasher usually, just to pass some time), the sets looked pretty cheap (trying for Moulin Rouge-y surreality and failing epicly) and it should have generally been much better than it was. Despite that, it was an entertaining film.
Summarising: It’s still watchable.
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We already talked about this, but I can’t agree with you AT ALL when it comes to the cinematography. I thought it was marvelous. IMHO, what Tom Hooper tried to do – and again, IMHO, successfully – was to bridge the gap between performance and audience that you usually get on the stage. But he still wanted to keep the feeling of a real stage performance, thus shooting most of them in one take, or at least as little takes as possible – which resulted in them falling out and into the picture. However, I liked it and felt it gave a more “real” feeling. Like the camera was there accidentaly, to capture them. I loved everything about this movie, and still think it was the best of the year – so far.
But if you want to give the audience a stage experience, the incredibly close close-ups (to prove that the actors really are singing directly to the camera) are all wrong. And the falling in and out of frame doesn’t work either. Because when you’re at the theater, your eyes aren’t fixed on one point on stage and if the actors don’t happen to be in it, you don’t see them. Your eyes move with them. And usually you don’t have the actors delivering their best moments cowered in some corner of the stage while the rest of the stage is empty. But that is exactly what the framing was like in this movie.
I guess we just have to agree to disagree about the success of Tom Hooper’s intentions – if those where his intentions. I don’t know.
No, not a stage experience. A cinematic experience, but with the characteristics of stage performances intact (live singing, one take or close to it). Only that you’re not sitting far far away and thus can’t appreciate the acting of the performer. There is a certain “urgency” (I can’t find a better word for it at the moment) of a live performance that you usually don’t see on film, with all the cutting, etc. He wanted to preserve the live feeling but also wanted to bring you right onto the stage, so to speak. I really loved that approach.
Also, the falling out and into camera is by far not as bad as you make it out to be (and seem to recall) ;-). But yeah, let’s agree to disagree :-).
I did not have a problem with the long takes or the live singing. I did have a problem with the framing – and that was as bad as I made it out to be (people don’t actually fall out of the actual picture that much, but the framing was still unbalanced and off) – and the unnecessary readjusting of the focus during the takes. For me this did not bring a sense of urgency or pulled me in deeper, instead it kept me stuck on the superficial things (like why they are freaking focused on Eddie Redmayne’s EAR of all things) and from really enjoying the thing.
But if it worked for you, maybe there’s something to Hooper’s approach that I’m not getting. :)
I’ll watch out for the framing the next time I see it, and may report back afterwards ;-).