Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review 158: "Les Miserables (2012)"

"Life has killed a dream I dreamed."

Oscarbait: The Movie!

      I really do like musicals. I may have said this before, but I think that it is fairly hard to make a bad musical, as all the hopefully upbeat singing and dancing usually keep myself happy even if there rest of the movie falls short. I also happen to really like History, therefore a musical set during the French Revolution, a movie we did talk about several times in my History class, seemed like something I could get behind. However, I wasn't able to see it in theaters, but after seeing all the awards and nominations it got, I knew I had the see this movie. If I had only knew... This 2012 version of the musical based on a book is directed by Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) and written by William Nicholson (Gladiator), Alain Boublil (Abbacadabra), Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer (Playgirl After Dark), the film follows Valjean (Hugh Jackman, Australia) as an escaped parolee who is running from Officer Javert (Russell Crowe, Robin Hood), when he meets prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway, Passengers) and promises to take care of her daughter Cosette (Isabelle Allen). Years pass and now Cosette (Amanda Seyfried, Veronica Mars) has grown up and has fallen for French Revolution participant Marius (Eddie Redmayne, My Week With Marilyn), much to Valjean's fears. Adding to the problem is the return of Javert and the love triangle between Cosette, Marius and Eponine (Samantha Barks, Groove High), whose parents happen to be Cosette's former guardians, the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter).

Summer camp memories.
No Quiet on the Set

      There are a lot of things that are technically impressive in Les Miserables. The fact that the actors all actually sing the music live on set is a pretty cool idea and one that everybody and their mom want you to know about. Sure, it was kinda mean to make Russell Crowe sing this much , but most of the music is well-made and most of the acting is good. Yes, Hathaway is as good as you've heard, though it's in a role made solely to get an Oscar. Even Crowe who can't really sing as well as everyone else does a usual great job as the film's "villain". The film also looks nice. The sets and effects are at times stunning, though it is often ruined by Hooper's surprising ineffectiveness here. He edits too much to often making scenes look like choppy music videos and when characters start singing he too often has the camera just stand still in a way too closeup of the actor's face. He needs to takes about 5 steps back and actually makes some movement as the best ballads often drag on too long in only one take. But there is a problem with the music in Les Miserables. There's too much of it. WAY too much of it. Les Miserables might be a great musical, but it translates to a bad, bad movie. The non-stop singing is technically impressive, but is a terrible idea for film.

Pit Stop

      One of the keys to any movie are the quiet moments inbetween the action. Moments in which story points are uncovered and character development is fleshed out. The problem is that Les Miserables doesn't have any of these moments. There is always epic sweeping camera shots and some epic music and someone is always singing epically. Most of what could've and should've been spoken dialogue is instead sung. And when characters always have to be singing, they can never truly connect or make strong story points, therefore what we are left with are one-dimensional characters and a simplistic story. Valjean is the hero simply because he's around the most and Javert is a cop just trying to do his job, but because he's against the main characters, he's our villain. I didn't ever care for the characters, which in a movie built on emotional attachments makes for a brutally boring 2 and a half hours runtime. Most of the musical numbers run together because, well, the actually run together, so it's hard to remember any standout songs or moments. And on top of that, those quiet moments also serve as breathers inbetween the exciting action, but without them here, the film is just exhausting.

I'd live in an abandoned ship...
The Verdict

      I'm sure the stage adaptations of Les Miserables are fine. But as a film, this version fails on almost every level. The film makes be put together nice and is filled with good actors, but they're all buried by the constant singing. The characters can never develop and are often left in one-dimensional stories that are impossible to care about, all while Tom Hooper edits too much or too little. The film is an absolute slog with an 147-minute runtime and there isn't a singular part I really remember liking more than just on a "meh" level. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't see this in theaters. The it would have knock one movie off of my worst of the year list. Les Miserables (2012) gets a star and a half out of 6. 

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