I Dreamed a Dream of a Better Movie
Les Misérables is a movie version of the musical based on the book of the same name (quite a mouthful). Set in 19th century France, the story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a “dangerous” convict (he spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread) who breaks his parole and then does a lot of things to make himself a better man, all while being chased by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) for a ridiculously long amount of time (about 20 years).
It has all the makings of being a huge success: a star studded cast, an acclaimed director, singing, comedy, romance, tragedy, revolution, and two and a half hours to do it in. I will start by saying that I did quite enjoy it, more than I thought I would. However, the really successful things only just edged out the poor choices made by the director.
One of the biggest mistakes on the director’s part was the distracting overuse of close-ups. To me, it is hard to be affected by the songs, when the camera is shoved up in the actor’s face. However, I didn’t think that all of the close ups were absolutely terrible. It worked in the scene with Fantine (Anne Hathaway). I do believe that Anne Hathaway will get an Oscar nomination for this. Her big song (“I Dreamed a Dream”) is fabulously heart wrenching. Some critics accused her of chewing the scenery (exaggerated acting) but I felt that, due to the extremely tight focus on her face, the intense emotionality of her performance was more noticeable, but not overdone.
Unfortunately, since this film is about 95% singing (the other 5% consisted of distracting snippets of dialogue), the vocals aren’t that good. Personally, I don’t understand why they couldn’t have hired actual Broadway singers. Broadway singers are still actors after all, and, that way, we wouldn’t have been subjected to the “singing” of Russell Crowe (more like lyrical yawning) or the high-pitched straining of Hugh Jackman. Javert’s song “Stars” is absolutely terrible. Banish it from your memory, and listen to a Broadway cast’s version. A few of the cast members did have Broadway experience. Samantha Barks played Eponine in this and in the Les Misérables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary, and she sounded amazing in both. Case in point.
Les Misérables is oddly flat (emotionally) at points and the cuts can be jarring, but it does have a number of standout songs. Here are the one’s to look out for: “Do You Hear the People Sing?” “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, and “I Dreamed a Dream.”
I think that people will be swept away by this film at the first viewing. If you go again you will get over your awe and start to see the flaws. I could go into detail about the ridiculous elements (like how all of the poor people had syphilis, how Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen seem to have made it their duty to look as ridiculous as possible, and Inspector Javert’s odd tendency to walk on the edge of roof tops), but I think it would be better for everyone to see it, just to say that they have.
Rating: PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements
Runtime: 2 hr. 37 min.