“Russell Crowe’s scenes as the villain Javert… see him straining so hard to sing that he looks mildly constipated and has seemingly forgotten to do any acting.” Crowe aside, ALEX KEMP is awed and impressed.
Les Misérables is unlike other musicals.
From the perspective of somebody who had never encountered Les Mis in any format before seeing the film, and whose only other encounters with musicals are Grease, Mary Poppins and Mamma Mia, the experience left me inevitably taken aback. Les Mis is bleaker and more emotionally forceful than its more convivial counterparts. But it also inspires greater fanaticism. Repeat viewings are commonplace for many fans, as is exiting each performance weeping and gushing about its brilliance.
Adapting Les Misérables for the screen, then, is a daring move, bound to anger both die-hard fans who consider the screen inferior to the stage, and casual musical-goers who are unhappy to sit through almost three hours of unrelenting tragedy. Luckily, however, director Tom Hooper (of The King’s Speech) has created a film that undoubtedly works. The film has an epic feel to match its epic size, created by vividly blending shots of sweeping French vistas with claustrophobic close-ups on individual faces, most notably that of Anne Hathaway, who almost steals the film in the short time she appears with her gut-wrenching rendition of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. The scene is, in many ways, the emotional heart of the film, encapsulating in one song the injustice and fury of the starving poor, and given that it is delivered so effectively, the response of the press (and Oscars) is entirely justified.
Others in the cast, however, hold their own just as well. When Jackman first appears as the film’s protagonist Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his starving family, he is almost unrecognisably harrowed and feral. Jean Valjean’s transformation from beast to man is the central thread of the plot, and, despite talk of an ‘ensemble cast’, Jackman’s assured performance is the keystone without which the film may not have supported the weight of its ambition. Eddie Redmayne also stands out as the love-struck Marius, demonstrating great acting talent and perhaps the best singing voice of the entire cast.
The comic relief in the film comes from Sacha Baron Cohen, who plays an inappropriate man with a dubious foreign accent, and his on-screen wife Helena Bonham Carter as a wicked gothic madwoman. These roles were, no doubt, quite a stretch for them. Other than their few scenes, Les Misérables has a fairly singular tone of – well – misery. That is, at least, if we discount Russell Crowe’s scenes as the villain Javert, most of which see him straining so hard to sing that he looks mildly constipated and has seemingly forgotten to do any acting. Crowe is the only weak link in what is otherwise the film’s greatest asset; its cast.
Les Misérables may well leave some longing for the levity of the songs of Abba as they leave the cinema, and it would be easy to dismiss the film as self-important and overlong. But there’s no doubting its ambition and the power of its performances. For its sheer ability to wring tears from the audience, Les Mis is a sight worth seeing.