Sunday, March 3, 2013

Les Misérables Fails to Garner Emotional Investment

The casts' Oscar performance was more enjoyable than the film itself.
Steve already provided a thoughtful and in-depth analysis of Les Misérables, so I’m going to cut straight to the point with my assessment. I found the film to be the weakest of the 2012’s Best Picture contenders. Part of that has to do with this year’s strong slate, but, outside of that, I just wasn’t into the film, which left me pretty cold and uninterested (a major problem for a production that relies heavily on emotional investment).

To be fair, I’m not the biggest fan of the stage production anyway, so the deck was stacked against the movie. I think Les Mis has a fantastic soundtrack, and the strength of the music can make for quite an emotional rollercoaster on the stage, but as a narrative, I’ve never been all that impressed. Other than two martyrs and a hardhead, every character is woefully underdeveloped. This is especially obvious in the case of Cosette, who’s nothing more than a plot device despite being the connecting tissue that binds most of the major characters together. In other words, she’s basically the human equivalent of a macguffin in an Indiana Jones film.

Getting back to the film itself, director Tom Hooper is a major part of the problem. Although I admire his decision to have the actors do all the singing live on set (a call that led to a well-deserved sound mixing Oscar), his cutting of the film is almost nonsensical at times, especially during the first hour or so. He makes the interesting choice to use extended close-ups during solos, but more often than not, that results in the whole affair seeming small when what he’s really going for is intimate (if that makes any sense).

Samantha Barks and her distractingly tight corset.
All of the actors do decent jobs with what their given. Hugh Jackman does most of the heavy lifting in this thing, and he’s solid throughout and has a great voice, so his Oscar nomination was hard won. And Anne Hathaway is fully-committed in the role that won her an Oscar. It’s essentially a one-note performance, and I wasn’t nearly as moved by the portrayal as many critics were, but girl’s a good actress and she sings pretty well, so that’s that.

Meanwhile, despite the plethora of criticism I’ve heard, I found Russell Crowe to be pretty good. Hooper does the man no favors with the way his exit scene was cut and staged, but Crowe lends a sense of gravitas to a relentless role that can get pretty frustrating for viewers at times. As for his singing voice – it’s not all that bad. He’s clearly not a match for his cast mates, but it’s not like he pulls a Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia. He carries the tune well enough, and his voice has a unique quality to it that contrasts nicely with the rest of the cast.

Oddly enough, I thought the film came across as a powerhouse during the Oscar ceremony itself. The clip reel they cut to showcase it was expertly edited, and the entire cast performed a fantastic medley on stage. If I hadn’t seen the movie already, I would’ve have been tricked into thinking this was a truly great movie musical. But regrettably, the spark from that telecast is not in the actual film. C+