I begged, I pleaded, I stole, I gave my man cherry to get tickets to see Les Miserables the movie before its UK release on January 11th 2013 and as a result I am now in a state of conflict. I want to love this musical movie but there’s one thing working against it, TOM HOOPER!
Ever since I was a kid, I was dragged to the musicals of the West End, I was one of the lucky ones to see Michael Ball star as Marius and Lea Salonga play Eponine, I’m pretty sure I even saw the original cast but I would have been a very young child at the time. Before we begin with the good, let’s get the bad out of the way.
A musical phenomenon like Les Miserables has remained on top for over twenty years because of a number of things; story, talent, spectacle and a fantastic score. In a stage production the ensemble are just as important as the leads and Tom Hooper’s limited vision really stunts the emotional drive and motives of the characters.
His inability to zoom out makes duets seem like they were shot on separate locations as we flick back and forth between characters even if they’re beside one and other which makes songs like “A Little Fall of Rain” carry less impact. It also means that songs like “Bring Him Home” also lose focus as Valjean goes to the barricades to find Marius and prays to god that the boy survives the night as revolution is just around the corner. The problem is, Bring Him Home isn’t just about Marius, it's the song of all the young men on that barricade, the young men whose loved ones pray for their safe return... yep Hooper flicks back and forth between Valjean and Marius like some slow set of ping pong or without audio, a homoerotic piece where Hugh Jackman watches a pretty boy sleep and weeps because of his evil homosexual desires.
Hooper’s vision felt so enclosed and claustrophobic that he wanted to show off the performances which worked well for the King’s Speech but here falls flat because it cuts away so much of the action going on around the characters. The tight shots as Hooper asks his stars to sing into camera, makes it seem like he hasn’t seen the show at all or someone played a cruel joke and told him that Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares To You music video was what Universal was after. That’s how most of the musical numbers look.
What pulls you out of Hooper’s limited view is the fierce Oscar worthy performances from Anne Hathaway whose rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” compelled the audience to burst into applause it was a true rendition of Fantine which reminded me a lot of Ruthie Henshall in the role. Battered, Broken, tested by god and ultimately a wasted life. A victim of greed and circumstance, hers is a truly heart breaking tale which will have you on the verge of tears. There’s no denying that despite her limited time on screen Hathaway steals the show in one remarkable performance that puts her worlds away from films such as The Princess Diaries (which I love!!). Hathaway is the saviour of the piece, she watches over it like an angel and pleads with god to make everything alright.
Which it is alright because my fears for Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman were put to rest. Of course the power of the musical elements and the roles have been subdued for these big named leads but they do a fantastic and intense job in conveying the rivalry that these two men have. One on the run from the law and the other, the law man whose purpose is clear; serve the law to the best of his ability without question even if his views are a little skewed. It’s quite remarkable what these burley men can do when put to the test. Although when Javert’s (Crowe) story comes to its conclusion, Hooper and a Foley artist step in once again to ensure that you’re not totally there for this STUNNING and absolutely compelling performance by Crowe. In fact for Crowe’s finale, Hooper found the zoom button and took us to a wider shot, panicked and then took us back in.
There’s a lot of talent and characters in Les Miserbales and Eddie Redmayne despite being quite nifty in the role of Marius gives a truly emotional rendition of “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” as the barricade comes down and the streets are awash with blood, Hooper sets down the camera yells “Action” and goes for a cup of tea leaving this pivotal song which should be a parallel to the time we saw earlier when the bar was busy with his friends, drinking, having fun but all we get is Redmayne’s teary face instead of a view of the once thriving establishment, beaten and worn from the battle much like Marius.
There were so many opportunities missed when it came to bringing this amazing and grand tale to the big screen but it’s the performances that pull the audience through, moving and honest performances stunted by a director who didn’t know how to bring the magic of the West End to the silver screen.
It’s a stunning piece of cinema but musical fans may find some of the new additions to the writing somewhat off putting. I thought someone was taking the piss when Valjean (Jackman) started singing a song called “Suddenly” in a horse drawn carriage. The last time that happened it was a duet between Cinderella and her Fairy God Mother in Slipper and the Rose.
It was still a lovely addition though, it’s the smaller additions to the piece that could have been spoken but were instead sung by the cast. These smaller pieces seemed somewhat out of place and disconnected from the rest of the piece, there are scenes where Valjean and Javert sing little blocks of dialogue and it just doesn't seem... right.
There are four more names I’ve yet to mention. One being Amanda Seyfried who I imagined would sing like a bird in distress but she really brings the innocence of Cossette to life with such zest and hope. She like Hathaway is a wonderful saviour for Les Miserables with a beautiful rendition of “In My Life”.
Then we have the amazing Aaron Tveit who in my mind would have been a better Marius than Redmayne but they’d taken a risk on casting Samantha Barks as Eponine as she was fresh from the West End stage and placed in this huge production without any real knowledge of the movie industry. She’s great as Eponine but her vocals felt held back for this production which was a shame as “On My Own” really needs that left hook, that power to grab the audience's attention.
As a fan of the stage; Les Miserables, fails to capture the magic of the west end production in every sense of the word, in fact in some aspects the stage production is of grander design despite the locations used for the film. Even the barricade looked like a ghost compared to the version you see on the stage. However, as a musical movie on its own? Les Miserables is truly an Oscar contender for the performances alone, Hathaway is amazing and although Samantha Barks was cut from Fantine’s final moments in the film which SADDENED ME immensely, it was needed because anyone going up against Hathaway would have seemed like a paraplegic trying to tread water.
Each actor/actress in Les Miserables demands the audience's attention, they want you to feel the honesty and gravity of the piece, they want you to applaud as you would in the theatre. They lay themselves bare for the world to see and they don’t apologise for it!
Thank goodness for talent coming to the rescue because Les Miserables might be fantastic but it is far from the EPIC it should have been. So I leave you with real magic as the original cast come together for the 25th Anniversary Concert. AWESOME.