Saturday, February 2, 2013

Watched Lately: Les Misérables (2012)

  • Once upon a time, Christmas would have been waking up, opening some presents, eating a little breakfast, and then heading over to the theater for the first showing of Les Misérables, a movie we've been looking forward to since it was announced. Now that we have a child, and had to travel for the holidays, we are lucky that we could carve out a little time a month later to finally get to a theater. It was worth it.
  • Les Misérables makes great advantage of its conversion to a movie. In a strange way, putting it on a big screen has made the story more intimate. Director Tom Hooper leans on an uncomfortably extreme closeup during several songs, but it actually works. The film strips down the musical to focus more on the story, bringing in elements from the book, and actually clarifying parts that the musical can only imply. In some ways, the musical's terrific bombast actually gets in the way of the plot. The stunning number of edits to the songs would probably send a hardcore Les Miz fanatic into a tailspin. But by dispensing with any slavishness to the material, the adjusted music compliments the script much more strongly.

  • The movie wouldn't be nearly as good if it weren't for powerful, emotional performances from the actors. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Eddie Redmayne stand out here, each selling their solos amazingly. Samantha Barks as Eponine was as good as one would expect from a Broadway actress, though I've always had trouble with how underdeveloped the role is in the musical. Since there is no room to expand her role, the movie wisely reduces it.

  • The most intriguing turn in the movie is Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as M. and Mme. Thénardier. The pair play their characters in an subdued, malevolent way, different from their usual portrayal as overblown buffoons. It is interesting to me that there is enough room in those characters for such wildly different interpretations.

  • Less remarkable, unfortunately, is the performance of Inspector Javert by Russell Crowe. Although he is great acting the role, his solos are harder to take. Javert is written melodramatically while Crowe is a more restrained singer. I can't decide if he fails the songs or if the songs fail him. It's hard for me to dislike his singing too much since he's singing in the exact same key I do, making it easier for me to sing along. But I can't help thinking that his two solos needed to be reworked more to fit his talents.

  • Highs and lows aside, I came away from the movie bawling like a baby. It was an experience, different than watching the musical, but powerful in its unique way. And I can't wait to see it again. Probably on DVD, late at night after the baby is asleep.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

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