Les Miserables, Tom Hooper’s big and brash adaptation of the famous musical, is very big. It is very big, and very loud, and very epic. Unfortunately it isn’t very good. I felt more miserable than the characters just watching the mess.
It is mainly Tom Hooper’s direction that bugged me. Almost every shot just felt that little bit “off”; at the wrong angle or wrong height or the wrong distance from the actor. I immediately realised it was designed to look gritty and realistic, but it quickly grew to be claustrophobic. Heck; even the main wide, establishing shot of Paris was a Dutch Tilt! I felt physically trapped in the film, and quickly grew restless.
I also found the editing very frustrating, with jumpy, constant back-and-forth cuts during big numbers. This is the movie musical equivalent to Pavarotti jogging in circles on stage while singing “Nessun Dorma”, distracting us from the performance. When Tom Hooper simply kept the camera still and let the actors perform, flashes of magic appeared. Alas, the editing, both in terms of sound and visuals, was distracting and flawed.
I was not a big fan of the performances, either. While Hugh Jackman does have the presence of a leading man, he falls back on a heavy vibrato every time the score requires passion and effort, with his numbers all starting to sound the same. Russell Crowe, on the other hand, is completely devoid of a musical sound. Every time he opens his mouth he appears to be straining, brushing over the powerful presence Javert usually has in the musical. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are almost inaudible as the film’s “comic relief”, while pretty Eddie Redmayne pretty much sounds like Kermit the Frog more gurgling than singing. It doesn’t help that the film is set up like an opera, with no spoken dialogue whatsoever. Have you ever been to an opera without professional singers? I haven’t… and I don’t plan to after watching this.
Much has been said of the “live-singing”, in which the actors actually sang on set, rather than singing in a studio. This seemed like a good idea in theory, potentially portraying powerful passions, but ask any singer and they’ll tell you it’s easier to sing on a stage or in a studio, than it is to sing on a set, surrounded by dozens of microphones and cameras and people handing out lattes, especially after twenty-or-so takes.
It’s like Communism; a good idea in theory that when put into practice doesn’t actually work, because we’re human beings and not robots who can turn on at anytime and deliver the same quality every time we work. I’m not sure about Anne Hathaway; her performance was so good I’m convinced she is a robot. The whole audience cried during her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”.
I think all my criticisms can be summed up with this; Tom Hooper has directed a musical as if it’s not a musical. He wanted a grim, raw period piece while keeping the power ballads and rousing choruses, and the two styles simply clashed unsuccessfully. As such, it is a misguided failure.
Oh and what was with the French kid speaking in Cockney British?