Movie Review: Les Miserables

Ratings for reviews will appear above the fold, while the review itself will appear below the fold to avoid spoilers for anyone that wants to go into it with a blank slate.

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

“Les Miserables”?  This movie should have been called “More Miserables”!  And in which I learn that I have as much talent as Russel Crow for being in a musical.

I am a fan of “Les Miserables”, the musical, so I came into this movie experience with high hopes.  Given what other directors have done with other musicals like Chicago and Evita and the grand backdrop of “Les Miserables”, I expected an epic story with exotic backdrops and moving tales with a sense of intimacy and pain.  What I got was two and a half hours of extreme close ups of people’s faces.  I don’t know what director Tom Hooper was thinking.

I was talking to a friend who is in theater a few days ago and she had complained about the extreme close ups and how they were basically trying to force melodrama by doing so.  I had mentioned that Victor Hugo is also said to be overly melodramatic and maybe that is what they were going for.  I was wrong.  Mostly what I felt from all of the close ups is anger.  Anger at ruining a terrific play.

For instance, there is a scene late in the movie where Jean Valjean is letting Cosette go in Marius’ arms and they’re all singing “A Heart Full of Love”.  The whole thing is done by cutting to extreme close ups of each of their faces.  Instead, they should have shown Cosette and Marius slowly moving away from Valjean and panning out as the space between them grows larger.

Another example is when Marius is singing “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables”.  This is supposed to be a song about the loss of comrades.  There are quick flashes of the room where they used to cavort and hatch their plots, but most if the time is spent all up in Marius’ business.  It’s as if the director doesn’t trust the audience to feel anything by showing a lonely man singing in an empty room.  Space can evoke emotions every bit as well as a close up.

Or maybe he saw how effective it worked with the songs from Fantine.  Anne Hathaway did a really good job evoking a sense of misery and loss.  The close ups were quite effective at provoking this, but it was probably more Anne Hathaway than the close ups that did this.

And then there was Russell Crowe as Javert.  My theater friend said that she thought Russell Crowe always looked extremely uncomfortable in every scene he was in.  To me, he just looked wooden.  I believe that I have moved my arms more while typing out this review than he did the entire movie.  And while Javert certainly had much more than his fair share of close ups, there were also many scenes of him standing on top of buildings and battlements and bridges perilously close to the edge and panning out to the landscape around him.  I think that was the director’s way of showing us that Javert is a man perilously close to the edge of sanity.  Because you sure weren’t going to be able to figure it out by Russell Crowe’s acting.

If you like the songs from “Les Miserables”, you’ll probably like the movie.  If you like the musical, you will probably be disappointed.  There is a grandiosity to the play that the movie just flat out fails to deliver.  And that’s a shame, because movies should be good at expressing grandiosity.

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