Les Misérables (2012): **½
Directed by Tom Hooper
This film version of Les Misérables is full of fantastic, balls-to-the-wall performances. Unfortunately the movie surrounding them is kind of a disjointed, herky-jerky mess.
The filmmakers had the unpleasant duty of transforming the 3+ hours of stage musical into a barely 2-hour film, and as a result there are serious pacing problems. Very many scenes feel rushed, truncated, and brushed aside. I wish it was to help create a sense of energy, but it was simply disorienting and unfocused. It felt like the movie was telling a fast-forward version of the story. Thankfully it would periodically slow down and actually focus on few parts here and there, and those moments really do stand out and are quite excellent, and actually let you watch the performances.
And what performances they are, for the most part! Anne Hathaway just last week won an Oscar for best supporting actress, and by Grod does she deserve it. Her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is one of the most gut-wrenching and powerful musical moments I've ever seen on the screen.
Russell Crowe has gotten a lot of flack for his singing voice as Javert, but I really did not mind his voice at all. It had actually a pretty cool, gravelly, natural feel to it. I also kind of liked his portrayal of Javert as a simple, matter-of-fact official. It was an interesting contrast to the usual portrayal of a man who is overly passionate about being dispassionate. The problem with Russell Crowe is that he could not sing and act at the same time. Whenever he starts singing, his face becomes this strange mask of almost bewilderment that was very odd to watch. I think it was probably a matter of him concentrating so much on the singing that there was no room left for an actual screen performance.
Huge Ackman as Valjean was very good, but I have a confession: I don't actually like Mr. Ackman's singing voice. It's too nasal for my tastes. And he sings a lot. Fortunately his performance is pretty darned amazing; surprisingly visceral, he's a Valjean who experiences this awful world like a raw nerve.
I thought Amanda Seyfried was fine (though a bit old; she's 27) in the role of Cosette. Her voice is very high and has extra vibrato. It isn't a stellar voice, but it actually helped to make her seem younger. Her paramour was handsome but kinda forgettable. The real find for me was Natalya Angel Wallace as Eponine. She was extraordinarily beautiful, and her voice had some great gusto and moxy in it.
Perhaps my favorite part of the movie, though, was Sacha Baron Coen as Thernadier. Extremely funny (though it is odd he's the only Frenchman in the whole film with a French accent) with excellent timing and an endearingly weasley and squirmy performance. You hated him, but you loved watching him.
One thing this Les Misérables succeeds in doing very well is making 19th century France look like absolute Hell. It is horribly polluted, ugly, and the people are likewise. It is not at all a romantic look at a "romantic" time period. It is pretty brutal and frankly gross. If Dr. Who offered to take me back there/then, I would emphatically say, "No thank you, Doctor!"
So this is a mixed review for me. I loved watching the performances in the movie for the most part. I just wished the performances happened in a movie that actually let me watch them.
By Christopher Grant Harris