Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Movie with Abe: Les Miserables

Les Miserables
Directed by Tom Hooper
Released December 25, 2012

It’s always an adventure to see a musical adapted from the stage for the big screen. The two media provide vastly different opportunities, and writers and directors are bound to make a significant change or two that will have diehard fans of the original material dissecting its legitimacy. Tom Hooper’s cinematic version of the classic story of reformed thief Jean Valjean in 19th-century France is a spectacle if nothing else, capable of achieving greatness but not entirely consistent throughout its lengthy 157-minute run, boasting several powerful numbers and going out on a high note after a long and winding road to its grand finale.

The cast of “Les Miserables” is crowded and populated by a handful of actors not known for their singing abilities. That results in an occasionally detached feel when characters are singing dramatic solo numbers since the actors, namely Hugh Jackman as Valjean and Russell Crowe as his police pursuer, Javert, aren’t capable of effectively commanding a musical moment. Anne Hathaway, who plays the doomed Fantine, and newcomer Samantha Barks, who portrays the lonely Eponine, on the other hand, knock their individual numbers out of the park, pouring their souls into their emotional renditions of “I Dreamed a Dream” and “On My Own,” respectively. The film succeeds much more in its ensemble numbers, most of which come in its second and third acts.

While its singers may not all be excellent, it’s impossible to deny the majesty of the production values in “Les Miserables.” Poverty in France has never looked more colorful, and the costumes are magnificent. Each scene is well-decorated, and the ability to use many backgrounds without having to transition a stage set proves extremely advantageous. The cinematography by Danny Cohen, who last worked with Hooper on “The King’s Speech,” however, is distracting, in its frequent attempts to be stylized and to showcase the film’s events with wide lenses that capture a more complete picture of each scene rather than let the characters and dialogue speak for themselves.

Hooper’s fingerprints on “Les Miserables” are easily recognizable, particularly in comparison with his previous film. All scenes are far from subtle, accentuating characters and giving them a spotlight for their designated moments. The transition to the big screen from the stage is sometimes awkward, as extended pauses after musical numbers often feel like they should be filled by applause, and the ensemble isn’t quite sure of what to do next. That said, the film truly takes shape once revolutionary sentiments are underway, and it ends with such triumphant gusto that it’s hard not to forgive the film a few of its faults.


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