Les Miserables (2012)
Movie Review: Les Miserables (2012)
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Hathway, Russell Crowe, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Director: Tom Hooper
Duration: 158 minutes
Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg
Like all great productions of art, Les Miserables, ever since it was first published, has left behind it a profound and glorious legacy. The famous production is commonly recognizable by its shortened form, Les-Mis. Perhaps the most alluring factor of the play is its immense portrayal of the human psyche. Les Miserables weaves an intricate tapestry of human emotion—anger, pain, regret, love, repentance, passion, patriotism, and many more—that is moving and so generously rewarding to anyone who reads or watches it.
Set in two acts, it is the story of Jean Valjean, a French ex-convict, who, after having escaped prison, seeks redemption for his sins. His arch-nemesis is Inspector Javert, who pursues him relentlessly throughout the story. A series of actions brings him face to face with Cosette, the daughter of Fantine, to whom Valjean becomes a father after the latter’s death. Eventually, his and his daughter’s fates become tied with those of some young revolutionaries of France, testing his character and strength more than ever.
Les Miserables, at its core, is a musical. The most interesting factor about its latest reproduction in the form of a musical film by Tom Hooper is that the actors live sing for the entirety of the film as they would for a theater production, with orchestral tunes being added later on during editing. What this brings to the movie is a raw appeal, spurred by powerful, ringing notes sung from the heart and the stomach and gut-wrenching expressions. It makes the audience soar with each high, and drown with each low. Peter Bradshaw described the emotion as a ‘revolutionary-patriotic fervor (that) is so bizarrely stirring, you’ll feel like marching out of the cinema, wrapped in the tricolor, and travelling to Russia to find Gérard Depardieu and tear him limb from limb.’CITATION Bra13 t l 1033 (Bradshaw)It brings spontaneity and focus, something that would have been lacking had the actors been required to sing later on in the studio. From a musical viewpoint, Les Miserables is simply astounding. Perhaps one of the reasons why that is so is Hooper’s excellent knack for choosing cast members. All of his actors fit perfectly into their characters as if they were the other half of his intellectual. This is what makes the music memorable. While Anne Hathway steals most the attention for her song, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, others such as ‘Look Down’, ‘Who am I’, ‘Red and Black’, and most importantly, ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ certainly make the experience of watching worthwhile. Bradshaw praised the musical performance in his review, saying:
“It conquers its audience with weapons all its own: not the passion so much as passionate sincerity, not power so much as overwhelming force. Every line, every note, every scene is belted out with diaphragm-quivering conviction and unbroken, unremitting intensity. The physical strength of this movie is impressive: an awe-inspiring and colossal effort, just like Valjean’s as he lifts the flagpole at the beginning of the film. You can almost see the movie’s muscles flexing and the veins standing out like whipcords on its forehead. At the end of 158 minutes, you really have experienced something.CITATION Bra13 l 1033 (Bradshaw)However, the decision to make the actors sing as they act compromised Hooper’s chance to extend the brilliance of the music to the cinematography in the film, which is sorely lacking in various places. In his review for the Independent, Anthony Quinn criticized the film’s camera angles:
“For in most other respects, this is a really poor movie, uneven, bloated, bombastic and horribly strained. You know the awkward habit of people who stand too close to you when they speak? That’s this movie. Whereas the stage allows a decorous distance between performer and audience, the camera in “Les Mis” positions itself just below the actor’s nose, leaving no room to breathe. Why was it thought necessary to have close-ups of everybody’s tonsils and teeth? In the case of Anne Hathaway the effect of her mouth opening in the song is quite disconcerting – you could fit an Oscar statuette in there, sideways. But at least she can sing…” CITATION Qui13 l 1033 (Quinn)In fact, the cinematography of the movie might prove to be the breaking point for even those who have loved the production for years. In some ways, Les Miserables takes one back to the era when cameras were kept stationary as the actors sang. The camera movement in the movie is repetitive and slow, giving the impression of pause rather than play. In certain scenes, particularly one where Cosette (Seyfried) and Marius (Redmayne) declare their love for each other through the bars of the gate to her house, one is distracted from the music and feeling by the disturbing fish eye that contorts the actors’ faces to peculiar angles. As was pointed out by Quinn, the movie is also plagued with distracting close-ups, highlighting just enough features on the actors as can compel the audience to think about the standards of beauty than the movie itself, particularly when watching it on big screens.
What the production lacks in cinematography, however, it makes up for in acting. From an anthromorphic point of view, each of the characters represents particular emotions that have been learned, rehearsed and portrayed beautifully by the respective actors. However, the light of Jackman’s lifelong repentance as Valjean, and Hathway’s despaired Fantine outshines all others in the production. That is not to say that the other actors in the movie did not do their part: individually, every one of Les Miserables’ cast members proves himself or herself to be strong, capable and more than sufficient to be part of this great fable.
The most surprising out of all is Hugh Jackman, playing the protagonist Jean Valjean. Jackman breaks away from the stereotype of the angry superhero that he has been repeatedly typecast into. He belts out his lines with passion and conviction, a hard feat to accomplish especially since his character undergoes such radical emotional changes through the course of the story—from loss of direction to repentance, to reform, to love, to anger and fear, and so on. Jackman seems to mold himself into each crevice of Valjean’s character, for which alone he should be commended.
Anne Hathway’s role as Fantine might have been short in the story, but she quickly becomes one of the most memorable and moving characters of all. About her performance as the woman driven to prostitution after losing her job, Dargis said:
“In the first long act of ‘Les Misérables,’ Anne Hathaway opens her mouth, and the agony, passion and violence that have decorously idled in the background of this all-singing, all-suffering pop opera pour out. It’s a gusher! She’s playing Fantine; the factory worker turned prostitute turned martyr and singing the showstopping ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ her gaunt face splotched red and brown. The artful grunge layered onto the cast can be a distraction, as you imagine assistant dirt wranglers anxiously hovering off camera. Ms. Hathaway, though, holds you rapt with raw, trembling emotion. She devours the song, the scene, the movie and turns her astonishing, cavernous mouth into a vision of the void.” CITATION Dar12 l 1033 (Dargis)Another of the movie’s surprise comes in the form of Russell Crowe as Javert. Even as a cruel, stringent police officer, he offers a performance that can only be described as abandoned and bare. While he plays his part brilliantly throughout the movie, it is during his two soliloquies that he truly shines. In one, he personifies determination and rage that spurs him to hunt Valjean for years. In the other, the determination has been replaced by a grave moral crisis, which ultimately leads to his suicide. He is entirely human, plagued by his views until he encounters a different world.
The younger cast in the movie holds its own as well, particularly Eddie Redmayne as Marius, the young rebel and forlorn lover wrapped into smooth, beautiful intonations that change with the mood. Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen also charm with their comedy as the crooked Thénardiers, the couple who brought up and abused Cosette as a child.
The cinematography is also compensated by the wonderful lighting and design in the movie. The use of lighting in the movie is sleek and pointed, and always complements the story. Darkness surrounds Anne Hathway in her mournful song, emphasizing how despaired and alone she is. Later, the gray skies and dull tones of 1832 France underscore the political struggle that was going on. The costumes in the movie have to be applauded as well though they take a backseat in comparison with the matter itself. A drawback, however, is how the story never seems to move. What this refers to is, once again, the looming feeling of pause in the movie. The barricade, for example, was supposed to keep the soldiers out but instead turns out to be one pile of furniture in one street in France. It might not have been so, but the audience finds difficulty in perceiving it since the movie has dense theatrical undertones. Characters update fellow characters by staying stationary, which subtracts from the overall charm of the movie.
Despite being a cinematic masterpiece, however, the film has received repeatedly mixed reviews. The trend seems to be persistent if one considers the vacillating views of those who reviewed the musical production in 1985. It is no doubt, however, that Les Miserables is one of the movies that stays with the audience long after the credits have rolled. Its power lies in its credible characters and by extension their emotional travesties, which drive the story to a successful fruition. The movie does exactly what it intends to move. It is a story of struggle, which is the fundamental brick in human life. Every character struggles with something: Valjean is engaged in a constant battle with his past; Javert struggles to find Valjean, and later to reconcile his worldview with Valjean’s; Marius and Cosette struggle to unite. Tom Hooper treats the story as his own, but with respect for Hugo, whose vision poured into every line he wrote. Hooper brings the story to a glorious culmination, giving each character the reception he or she deserved. He resolves each struggle and looks after the story as a parent would. He has, of course, made mistakes that might prompt people to surrender before the climax, but if one sticks through, one will come out imperceptibly altered, but profoundly and tangibly shaken.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Bradshaw, Peter. The Guardian. 10 January 2013. 29 May 2015 <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jan/10/miserables-review>. Web
Dargis, Manohla. The New York Times. 24 December 2012. 29 May 2015 <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/25/movies/les-miserables-stars-anne-hathaway-and-hugh-jackman.html?_r=0>. Web.
Quinn, Anthony. The Independent UK . 10 January 2013. 29 May 2013 <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/film-review-les-misrables-tom-hooper-directs-anne-hathaway-and-hugh-jackman-in-the-big-screen-version-of-victor-hugos-tale-8446669.html>. Web.