Critics report: Les Miserables, a successfully exaggerated adaptation
Despite telling the story of the oft adapted Victor Hugo novel, Tom Hooper's musical drama Les Miserables has managed to pass the test and surprise the critics. And, seems like it deserves the Oscar nods after all!hollywood Updated: Jan 18, 2013 14:43 IST
Film: Les Miserables
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne
Plot Synopsis: In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's (Anne Hathaway) daughter, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). The fateful decision changes their lives forever.
Despite telling the story of the oft adapted Victor Hugo novel, Tom Hooper's musical drama Les Miserables has managed to pass the test and successfully surprise the critics. And seems like it deserves the Oscar nods after all!
Jenny McCartney, Telegraph.co.uk
It (the film) boasts squalor, sentiment and romance, cascades of coincidence, dramatic changes of heart and fortune, and a teeming cast of orphans, prostitutes, idealists and rogues. It unfolds, with confident spectacle, on a monumental scale. Most of it is sung: this panorama of Paris may belong to cinema, but its soul is pure opera.
Hathaway is on screen for a relatively short time, yet makes a startling impact. There’s an authentic gleam of desperation in her mournful brown eyes, and the interpretation of her treatment is unsparing. In this savage society, mercy is a sparse commodity.
Jackman anchors the film with the rare sense of sturdy compassion, while Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen provide a dark dose of filthy comedy as the Thenardiers, a couple of indestructible grotesques on the make.
Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
The people who put Les Misérables on screen dreamed a mighty dream, they really did. They dreamed of filming one of the most popular of modern theatrical musicals — 60 million tickets sold in 42 countries and 21 languages since its 1980 Paris debut — in a way that had not been done before, enhancing the emotion of what was already a hugely emotional piece. And, despite some built-in obstacles, they succeeded to a surprising extent.
The biggest obstacle to their success, paradoxically, was the show itself, a whopper of a tale wrestled from Victor Hugo's massive novel. Though the production's songs are celebrated, the dialogue between them is not, while the plot veers toward shameless and the characters can come off as one-dimensional.To counter all this, director Tom Hooper (in his first film since the Oscar-winning The King's Speech) has doubled down on the piece's greatest strength, finding ways to magnify the musical's ability to create those waves of overwhelming feelings in an audience. So if unashamed, operatic-sized sentiments are not your style, this Les Miz is not going to make you happy.
Perhaps the key change Hooper made in the way movie musicals are usually put together is his insistence that the singing the audience hears is the actors performing live on the set at the time of filming, not weeks earlier in a recording studio. That allows them to bring the rich emotion of their entire performances to celebrated songs such as "Who Am I" and "One Day More."
Hooper believes, as he told an early Los Angeles screening audience, that "singing gives access to a deeper emotional range," but that doesn't mean that this was in any way easy. The director revealed that the actors wore two radio microphones outside their costumes, so that no matter which way their heads turned, the sound would be accurately recorded. All that remained was to "digitally paint them out" frame by frame by frame.
By having the actors in this film sing live on camera, rather than prerecord their voices in studios prior to reaching the set, Hooper gives the story a live, even visceral feel. It's as though this is a melodrama whose characters are so passionate that they can no longer speak their feelings -- they are forced to sing them.
Hooper’s dynamic camera sometimes emphasizes the staginess of the material. At other times, it makes it feel immediate, when characters define themselves through song. And this is a cast that mostly seems up to the task.That’s particularly true of Hugh Jackman as Valjean, his strong, sometimes keening tenor giving depth to the music and deeper meaning to the words. Having been shown kindness by a clergyman who he meant to rob, Valjean sings "What Have I Done," a soliloquy about turning his life around that Jackman seems to sing through tears.
Verdict: "Les Miserables" builds to a moving climax in the battle between the revolutionaries and the army, and ends with an emotionally well-wrought finale of surprising power. The music is never as impressive as the filmmakers want you to think but the filmmaking itself is often very good – good enough to keep you watching and plugged in on a level that will leave you feeling wrung out.
Philip French, The Observer (The Guardian)
After a gap of nearly 28 years, I've seen Tom Hooper's film of Les Misérables and the scales have fallen from my eyes and ears. On screen at least, it's the best musical I've seen for many years, a magnificent achievement that overwhelmed me from the opening moments of the tormented hero Jean Valjean working with a chain gang to drag a sailing ship into dry dock in 1815 to the finale of his death in a Parisian convent 17 years later following the failure of the 1832 uprising against the repressive monarchy. If at times, as I've suggested, Les Misérables echoes Oliver!, it's an Oliver! with steel teeth and waving a red flag.
Several things hold the film together, the most notable being Claude-Michel Schönberg's music and the English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer, which like Rouben Mamoulian's 1932 Love Me Tonight and Jacques Demy's Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort are sung through using rhyming couplets at all times. These lyrics are simple and direct, neither deliberately smart nor particularly witty, but they hold our attention line by line, driving the action forwards, developing the themes, turning the film into a verbally coherent whole. The solos and choral pieces always propel the story and derive their force from the context, so that Fantine (Anne Hathaway), the prostitute whose daughter Cosette is eventually adopted by Valjean, sings I Dreamed a Dream from the depths of her degradation.
Hooper is also to be congratulated on the integration of the grand set-pieces – the chain gang at work, the chases, the fighting at the barricades during the aborted revolution – with the more contemplative moments, and both parts with the continuous flow of music. In this he's been helped by some gifted collaborators, including production designer Eve Stewart and cinematographer Danny Cohen, who both worked with him on The King's Speech, and the editor, Chris Dickens, whose recent credits include Slumdog Millionaire and Berberian Sound Studio. The film has a wonderful period look that's both stylised and realistic, and draws on 19th-century French paintings, most especially David, Géricault, Delacroix, Manet and Gustave Doré.
Verdict: Above all else, perhaps, the film is about three things. First, love both sacred and profane, and its ability to transform and transcend. Second, our need to fight for change and social justice in a cruel world that resists revolution or too easily undermines and diverts it. Third, and above all, Les Misérables is about holding on to hope in the most desperate conditions, and it ends in the victory of love in a context of political defeat.
Director Tom Hooper has turned the theatrical extravaganza into something that is far less about the rigors of existence in early 19th century France than it is about actors emoting mightily and singing their guts out. As the enduring success of this property has shown, there are large, emotionally susceptible segments of the population ready to swallow this sort of thing, but that doesn't mean it's good.
The first thing to know about this Les Miserables is that this creation of Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, is, with momentary exceptions, entirely sung, more like an opera than a traditional stage musical. Although not terrible, the music soon begins to slur together to the point where you'd be willing to pay the ticket price all over again just to hear a nice, pithy dialogue exchange between Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe rather than another noble song that sounds a lot like one you just heard a few minutes earlier. There were 49 identifiable musical numbers in the original show, and one more has been added here.
The passions of all the characters are simple and deep, which accounts for much of the work's enduring popularity in all cultures.
But it also makes for a film that, when all the emotions are echoed out at an unvarying intensity for more than 2 1/2 hours on a giant screen, feels heavily, if soaringly, monotonous. Subtle and nuanced are two words that will never be used to describe this Les Miserables, which, for all its length, fails to adequately establish two critical emotional links: that between Valjean and Cosette, and the latter's mutual infatuation with Marius, which has no foundation at all.
The actors are ideally cast but, with a couple of exceptions, give stage-sized turns for the screen; this bigness might well be widely admired. Jackman finally gets to show onscreen the musical talents that have long thrilled live musical theater audiences, Hathaway gamely gets down and dirty and has her hair clipped off onscreen in the bargain, and Redmayne impresses as a high-caliber singing leading man, but there is little else that is inventive or surprising about the performances. Still, there is widespread energy, passion and commitment to the cause, which for some might be all that is required.
Verdict: Well-sung but bombastic screen version of the musical theater perennial.