Film: Les Miserables

Les Miserables … Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway.Do you hear the people sing?

Les Miserables. Even those who don’t know it, know it. A story of love, war, fear and hope; it embodies everything that is needed to make a winning film.

Theoretically.

When the first trailer hit our screens showing a bald-headed, angst-ridden Anne Hathaway giving a heart-wrenching rendition of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’, our hopes were raised exceptionally high – it promised us everything that we loved from the stage-show, only in high-definition with surround sound and a stellar cast. With Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman leading the charge, what could possibly go wrong?

Missed cues, poor directing, unclear purposes…Shall we go on?

Our advice: if you’re an avid Les Mis fan, either go to see it with an open mind (and a prescription of beta blockers for the heart palpitations), or don’t see it at all. If, for some bizarre reason, you aren’t familiar with Victor Hugo’s age old classic, then by all means it’s worth a watch.

Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), and scripted with the help of Boubil and Schonberg, who wrote the original music for the 1985 stage production of Les Mis, the film seems stuck in some sort of limbo between a movie and a musical. ‘Too many cooks’ springs to mind as we watch awkward-at-times balance between dialogue and singing. The fans amongst you will be pleased to know that all of the original songs have been kept, with an additional song, ‘Suddenly’, added in by Boubil. It’s just a shame that the newly composed score sticks out like a sore thumb – the melody over-simplified and the composition rushed to say the least.

It boasts an impressive Hollywood cast with the familiar and well-loved faces of Hugh Jackman, playing fraught protagonist Jean Val Jean, Anne Hathaway as the long suffering Fantine, and British legend Helena Bonham Carter and comedian Sasha Baron Cohen make for a hilarious Mr and Mrs Thenardier. However, instead of blending the acting and the singing effectively, it seems they have been forced to compromise, which leads to a jarring combination of the two. Hugh Jackman is hit and miss; Jean Val Jean’s soliloquy at the beginning of the film is emotive, yet is let down by poor directing, which struggles to keep up with him as he strides in and out and up and down the monastery. Given that this is a result of the brave decision to shoot the singing live rather than having the actors dubbing in post-production, we can almost forgive them. Almost.  ‘Bring Him Home’, however, is ironically beyond redemption and led one of us to take a tactical toilet break just to escape.

Hathaway boasts real talent, but due to the poor shooting of the much anticipated ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, is not provided with the right environment in which to spread her wings. The entire song is filmed as a close-up of her face, which sways frustratingly in and out of shot. Although this displays the talent of the make-up department, after three and a half minutes it is easy to lose focus on what potentially could be the emotional pinacle of the film.

Russell Crowe's performance has received mixed reviews.

Russell Crowe’s performance has received mixed reviews.

One of the most unexpected performances was given by Russell Crowe. Upon scrutinising the pre-released soundtrack note-by-note, we were concerned by the apparent lack of enthusiasm given by Crowe and were more than ready to slate him. However, after seeing his portrayal of the typically callous Inspector Javert, we are treated to a glimpse into a more sympathetic character; one who is capable of feeling and grief, even for those he professes to despise. However, when compared to the vocal talents of Phillip Quast (who appeared in the 10th Anniversary stage production) he doesn’t quite hit the mark. His rendition of Javert’s ‘Suicide’, although refreshingly humble, waned leading up to and during the most climatic parts. The performance overall felt as misguided as ‘Bring Him Home’ and other crucial scenes.

Some of the core songs such as ‘One Day More’ can only be described as a missed orgasm – no sooner do they brush against the right spot, giving a shiver of delight that only comes through surprise, than it shifts and continues to rut against a distinctly wrong spot, causing chaffing and irritation.  It’s enjoyable enough, but lacks the oomph required to do the lyrics and the music justice and, as you prepare yourself for the grand finale, you are only left with disappointment and frustration.

Due to the nature of the plot, Les Miserables is a story which needs careful planning in order to tie all of the individual stories together, and the film fails to do this. Original stage director John Caird believed that the success of Les Mis was due to the fact that ‘[the actors] have agreed amongst themselves that they are to be representing not just the characters they’re playing but what Victor Hugo’s all about, what the musical’s all about, what the novel’s all about.’ The film, however, watches as a medley of disjointed solos from a group of people all striving for the limelight. Each story stands separate from the other instead of melding together to make one epic plot.

We can’t help but feel that it would have benefited from a complete remodelling, rather than trying to springboard from something that is already complete in itself. But how could it have been done better? It was our overriding opinion that Les Miserables as it stands is best suited to the stage, and upon leaving the cinema that supposition felt very much justified. However, similar criticism was made upon the book’s transition to the theatre, which ultimately proved to be entirely unfounded. Does this film mark the end of Les Mis’s ascent, or will it prove to supply a new platform on which the universally beloved story can continue to shine? We must wait and see.

Les Miserables is out in Aberystwyth Arts Centre and the Commodore Cinema on 25th January.