I got invited back to the From the Red Carpet Film Club again this week and the film we had to see before our Facebook discussion on Sunday was Best Picture contender Les Misérables starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe. Here is my review and here are links to all the other films I've seen thanks to free tickets from From the Red Carpet:
Musicals drive me mad. All that spontaneously bursting into song seems silly and just doesn’t slide with me. While many of the songs in Les Misérables outstay their welcome, as does the film slightly, it is nevertheless a bold and brilliant piece of cinema.
The story of Jean Valjean, the reformed criminal hunted by the tenacious Inspector Javert, takes a while to get going until Anne Hathaway shows up and blows everyone else off the screen. The opening scenes are hampered by exposition that is delivered in sickly over sized spoonfuls and all in song. While the continuous music makes the singing more palatable, the film fails to fly until Hathaway’s Fantine makes an appearance.
Hathaway delivers heart wrenching emotions at the horrendous situation Fantine finds herself in. It is the undisputed high point of the film as a character that we quickly find ourselves caring about reaches her incredible low point. The rest of the cast are also impressive with frequently fantastic performances from Jackman, Hathaway and Redmayne. Their emotions, helped mostly by wonderful music, burst off the screen captured in intimate close ups.
Crowe doesn't quite have the vocal talent of the rest of the cast and his songs are certainly the least exciting, though some of Jackman’s songs also make the interest wobble despite his emotive performance. Hathaway will be robbed if she fails to get the best supporting actress Oscar, with both her singing and acting being perfectly in tune with each other and absolutely breathtaking. Eddie Redmayne's Empty Chairs at Empty Tables performance is another astonishing high point, tear jerking and hard to match by any of the other songs or performances. Director Tom Hooper’s decision to capture all the singing live on set really pays off, lending the big numbers an immediacy and power that stage show fans and movie sceptics may have thought the film version would fail to capture. The live singing might slightly detract from the perfection of the vocals but it creates an immersive quality that, aided by close ups, surely must match or better the experience of the theatre musical.
The Thenardiers are a welcome bit of comic relief and Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are great fun. It is a joy to see Sacha Baron Cohen relish a role, having turned down a part in Django Unchained and managing to wash away the memory of his silliness in Hugo.
Les Misérables has a huge cast of characters and it all revolves around Jackman’s Jean Valjean. While this character is saintly and less interesting than many others, Jackman delivers an incredible performance, starting off almost unrecognisable before finally delivering a very emotional climax by the end. Amanda Seyfreid’s Cosette gets short shrift as we barely learn a thing about the older incarnation of the character despite a promising introduction to the younger version. She has the least interesting character in the story, despite overall pretty poor representations of women. Seyfried hits the high notes admirably however. Aaron Tveit’s Enjolras also loses out; having to take a back seat to a soppy love story that sadly lacks as much interest as the story of the revolt.
Long films are fine but some of the songs go on and on and as the film hits an emotional highpoint with Redmayne’s rendition of Empty Chairs, the end of the film after the revolutionaries have lost starts to sag in comparison. Though Hathaway's reappearance near the end is very welcome, the young lovers ending up together seems insignificant after what has come before. Ending on Empty Chairs would have been truly miserable and made the film version unforgettable.
Nevertheless, Les Miserables is a moving musical powered by astonishing performances, some brilliant songs and a story that plumbs the depths of despair before settling on a soppy love story that fails to capture the emotions of early scenes. It overstays its welcome but is still a huge achievement from a gifted director and mightily impressive cast.