Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Friday, December 28, 2012

Movie Review: Les Miserables

Filed under: Movie and Entertainment — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 02:26


When Les Miserables opened on Broadway close to 30 years ago, it was panned by many critics who called it “The Miserables” and labeled it a depressing musical that was sure to shutter within weeks. Yet despite these criticisms, the show went on to become one of the biggest hits of all-time and was nominated for an astonishing 12 Tony Awards, winning 8 of them, including the coveted Award for Best Musical. So it’s no exaggeration that the film version, which opened to a record $18.6 million on Christmas Day, has taken close to three decades to come to fruition. And this film version of the famed musical does not disappoint. Producer of the Broadway and West End (and tours and multiple revivals) staging Cameron Mackintosh followed the entire production closely; and his talented and skillful hand is evident throughout the film.

And director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) has also brought every detail of the musical to vibrant life. A few key elements of the story have shifted here and there and there have been some much appreciated details added to the historic context of the storyline. But when film adaptations like RENT and Rock of Ages failed in their attempts to augment their source material, Les Miz is unbelievably successful. Perhaps the biggest strength of the film is its cast. Hugh Jackman gives an absolutely flawless performance as Jean Valjean; and Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Fantine is likely to win her the Academy Award, and deservedly so. Her singing is pitch perfect in just the right spots; and her intonation and timing is impeccable as she brings the plight of her character vividly to life. It is important to note that the actors all sang live during  filming. This is in stark contrast to the manner in which prior musicals have been filmed, with actors recording their roles in studio and then lip-synching during filming (note the 1996 film EVITA also featured some live singing; but only a few very small parts were orchestrated in this manner).

Other key performers, including Samantha Barks (Eponine), Amanda Seyfried (Cosette), and Eddie Redmayne (Marius) are spot-on perfect while the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) provide comical relief adequately. Unfortunately, Russel Crowe ultimately falls flat as Inspector Javert. Like Pierce Brosnon’s performance in Mamma Mia!, Crowe’s singing ability is questionable; and while his acting is superb, in a movie musical, the vocals are essential. With an ensemble of veteran stage actors and other highly talented musical theater actors, Crowe sometimes feels out of place and is definitely outmatched by his costars. And the live recording of the actors, while innovative and certainly appropriate, sometimes drowns out the beautifully lush and full sound of the accompanying orchestra. But even with these minor drawbacks, Les Miserables soars! It is by far the most outstanding film of 2012 and should (hopefully) sweep the awards. Rightly so, the movie is nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Picture; and Anne Hathaway (Supporting Actress) and Hugh Jackman (Actor) have received nominations for their performances as well. “Suddenly” the one new song written specifically for the film (which I wasn’t overly impressed with) is also nominated for Best Song. Let’s hope it wins all four of its nominated categories.

Les Miserables is now playing nationwide from Universal Pictures and is rated PG-13.

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