'Les Miserables (2012)' Review
Posted by Ollons on January 5, 2013 at 3:45 AM comments (0)
WARNING: Following may contain spoilers, and errors.
'Les Misérables' is a 2012 British musical drama film, and is based upon the musical of the same name by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, which in turn was based on the namesake 1862 novel by Victor Hugo. I haven't read the book, nor seen the original musical, therefore I am not certain how faithful the film adaptation is to the source material. Since the film is ultimately an opera, the actors' expressions and gestures are exaggerated even further than they would be for a "regular" movie. There are multiple close-ups, where the particular actor's face would dominate almost the entire screen; therefore, their (somewhat hyperbolic) emotions are clear to witness.
The cast portray their respective characters quite well. While I do take grievance with some characters, and the actions of others, the faults are not from the performances themselves. I have heard better singing, however, for the most part, the cast deliver their songs quite brilliantly. Although, when many people are singing simultaneously, even if it's the same song, it can be difficult (or impossible) to understand the lyrics, because the words cluster together into an incomprehensible crowd sound. Regardless,the songs are, mostly, really good; despite some seeming to hold a tone which doesn't befit the lyrics (uplifting sounding song, with sad lyrics), the general mood of the scenes should be conveyed. Also, Sacha Baron Cohen's song is the most entertaining.
The characters are based upon certain archetypes, with most background characters seeming to be one-dimensional; although, the primary protagonist manages to portray the deeper aspects of their character's truest persona (sort of).
Hugh Jackman is incredible as primary protagonist (main character for the first two Acts), Jean Valjean; the character's transition from hopelessness, to righteous man, is adeptly delivered by Jackman. While the character is a little too good (sometimes sanctimonious), this shouldn't prevent audiences from connecting with him.
Russell Crowe is fine as Inspector Javert: there is an intriguing dynamic between the protagonist and his pursuer, as both are fundamentally good men, yet the Inspector sees the world in a binary light, i.e. holds an uncompromising belief in and enforcement of the law, in spite of the damage that it can do. Albeit, the character is ultimately unnecessary: the role could've been filled by any of the militaristic policemen, most of whom are soulless caricatures of the "evil establishment."
Anne Hathway provides an excellent performance as Fantine. While I did not particularly like the pitiful, one-dimensional nature of the character [I realise that she has a child, and is desperate, but going from unemployment straight to selling her hair, and, randomly, two teeth. And then, into prostitution? Why not try burglary first? True, it may be a sign of the era, it doesn't really vindicate the character's decisions], her strong emoting and singing delivered the character's fragility, desperation, and dedication to her daughter. She provides a good performance, in spite of the character's lack of depth.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are standouts in their respective roles as Thénardier and Madame Thénardier. The characters are practically comedic in their sociopathic and avaricious natures; while odd, it is executed in manner which seems appropriate. Also, Carter usually portrays bizarre/deranged women with a peculiar sense of style, therefore she appears natural. Cohen delivers much needed comic relief from the grim mood of the movie; it would have been better if his character was introduced sooner, instead of near the end of the First Act. Regardless, the "Master of the House" song is a high light.
There are a couple of brilliant child actors too.
Its shift in mood and genre can seem awkward. The mood goes from despair, into essentially comedy, then back to despair; as well as the genre shifts between a cat-and-mouse game, into revolution, then a love story, all a bit clumsily. Especially the transitions when the depicted date jumps years forward for the story's timeline. Therefore, the pacing is not optimal.
I actually had to prevent myself from heckling at some sections of the movie, due to the self-centred and downright illogical developments of a few major characters. For example: One boy forsakes his wealthy family to assist in a proletariat revolution, orchestrated by students, yet momentarily loses conviction due to hormonal delusions. Also, once the rebellion fails, he instantly embraces his prior privileged life; while it may be to provide an easier life for his love, it still shows an astonishing lack of loyalty to his slaughtered friends.
It is necessary to use "French" as an adjective, because this movie is often incredibly French. The near-nihilism of some characters reflects a stereotypical French existentialist viewpoint, that being: there is no point in attempting to reason or deal with a sudden epiphany or realisation, therefore one should just die. The titles various English translations, The Miserable, The Poor Ones, The Wrectched Poor, or The Victims, are so perfectly French, and are apt for the amount of despair displayed throughout the movie. There is hope present, however, it is more of a bitter-sweet sort, instead of simple bliss.
I am not well-versed in French history, therefore I am not sure of the extent that dramatic liberties altered the world . The film spans from 1815, culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion. The revolution (or lack thereof) seemed almost laughable in its poor execution and ill-prepared plans; this may be to enhance the naïvety of the young failed revolutionaries, or perhaps emphasise the motif of tradegy.
The costumes are constructed well, seeming to reflect the era of the time, as well as the class, within which the characters are trapped. There have been better and more original costume designs in other films, yet this film still has some impressive designs. Particularly those belonging to Cohen and Carter.
The predominant motifs of the film are redemption and the search for identity, ergo a family. These are mostly explored through the ex-convict protagonist, whom, while merely a bread-thief, feels as though he must atone for this and his other, unmentioned albeit possibly minor sins. He becomes the adopted father of Fantine's daughter, Cosette; while still fleeing the inspector, he finally discovers a true sense of belonging and purpose by being the caretaker of the girl.
Sometimes the events on-screen can be an arduous or distressing sight to endure. Such as a young boy being shot to death by the King's troops, a frantic escape through a neck-high tide of filth in the sewers, the sheer sadness of certain characters, as well as other developments. Also, the mass amount of close-ups is a bit, pardon the pun, in the audience's face; surely there could be a way to portray the intensity of the scenes, without frequently filling the screen with crying, dribbling, snotty faces.
On other times, the events can be a bit confusing or lack closure. (SPOILER) The cause of the demise of Fantine is never actually clarified; she was somewhat brutalised, yet it didn't seem like enough to actually cause death.
Most of the dead characters engage in a final composition in the last scene of the film; they seem happy, and the implication is that they're in heaven, yet they are still all trapped along a larger version of the barricade where they were killed.
Fantine's angelic apparition is still the unfortunate owner of the heinous haircut; couldn't they have at least given her a wig?
Jean Valjean ponders a moral dilemma: that is, another man is being tried for his parole violation, yet he has a responsibility to an entire town of which he became mayor and essentially its saviour. However, his troublesome conscience causes him to abandon the town and admit that he is the culprit of defying the impractical legal system. He is forced to live on the lam, and the fate of his town is left unspecified; whether it collapsed from the loss of its proverbial central pillar, or if it continued without him. (END SPOILER)
The story is over 100 years old: this is rather evident. The protagonist only becomes "good" by embracing Christianity (Catholicism was the state religion at the time of authorship of original novel), therefore he is portrayed as incapable of righteousness without the element of religion. There are no positive female characters: Fantine is shown as selfless, however, she also seems to have an astonishing lack of motivation to find employment besides prostitution. Also, she is portaryed as unable to properly help herself, that is, she is a "dumbed down woman" whose only chance of escaping her depressing situation is from the assistance of a "righteous hero"; therefore, woman, in the story, are mostly "damsels in distress" awaiting a "knight in shining armour." Fantine's daughter is merely a plot device and, once she matures, loses her childish charm and displays a bland personality. Cosette becomes smitten with a rather unattractive young man, whom falls for her likewise; their "love at first sight" seems a bit contrite or, at the very least, a lazy, superfluous addition to the plot.
If one does not enjoy musicals, then they should avoid this film. While it is an adaptation of a classical text and musical, it would not be appreciated by the uninitiated, particularly due to its extreme length of around 2 hours and 45 minutes (it is "extreme length" in terms of theatrically released musicals. With actual stage performances, it might be average or shorter). Yet, if one does enjoy musicals or classical literature, then they would most likely be enthralled by this film. Then again, if one is adamant about maintaining musicals as stage productions and/or keeping completely loyal to the source material, then they may find the alterations as unnecessary or even awful.
Overall, a fine film (albeit probably doesn't deserve all of the acclaim which it is receiving), with strong performances, excellent songs, magnificent music, but with a droll story. While the fans of the stage show might dislike the film, other general musical admirers should enjoy it. I have a feeling that this film is loaded with Oscar bait: I will probably disagree with most of its nominations (Anne Hathway was more awesome as Catwoman), therefore any lasting impression of the film may be weakened by the excessive praise.
To find our 2012 archive, go to: www.werisemag.com