Given that I cry in almost every film and have an enormous repertoire of shower show tunes, you’d think I was the perfect customer for the producers of Les Mis. Emotionally fragile, impressionable, total hots for Fantine and Cosette- what more did I need? Well, as it turned out, quite a lot. The film adaptation of Cameron Mackintosh’s stage behemoth is a bloated, melodramatic and aesthetically ragged film. It contains a startlingly brilliant performance from Anne Hathaway, and a terrific leading man turn from Hugh Jackman, but in the big league that director Tom Hooper has been promoted to (following his Oscar for The King’s Speech) you need a lot more than just a big budget and a good casting director. And, frankly, there’s not a lot more to Les Mis.
We open with Jean Valjean (Jackman) being freed on parole by the intransigent Javert (Russell Crowe), which he quickly breaks after coming into money and managing to build a new life as a gentle businessman. But when a worker Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is wronged in his factory and a child, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), is left orphaned, Valjean must accept responsibility for her whilst also fleeing from a vengeful Javert- right into the heart of revolutionary Paris. The cast are, uniformly, working hard, but with varying degrees of success. Crowe is surprisingly human but slightly on autopilot (and autotune), whilst Seyfried’s Cosette is about as interesting as a half side of A4. Eddie Reymayne is powerful as Marius but his big number, ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’, does not work as well on film. There are also a couple of frustrating turns by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter which seem to have been ripped from an entirely different movie altogether. But Hathaway and Jackman redeem the ensemble, along with I’d Do Anything reject Samantha Barks and Gossip Girl alum Aaron Tveit.
But the main problem for the film is Hooper himself. The King’s Speech was a wonderful feat of acting and writing, but the cinematographical vision was often difficult. In Les Mis the aesthetic of the film is overrun by the sheer volume of Dutch angles and weird framing, with a particular preference for enormous amounts of headroom. The climactic battle at the barricade also has a profoundly stagey feel, with Hooper seemingly unwilling to adjust the stage musical to allow for a slightly more cinematic sprawl to the battle. That fear of originality is one of the biggest failures of the film- the emotional songs are all captured in close-up, the revolution has about three different shots and takes place in a 20-metre wide alleyway, and the performances, which require emotional height to be conveyed on stage, are all ramped up to 11 ALL THE TIME. It’s actually quite exhausting to watch.
A disappointment for anyone who knows that there’s a fundamental difference between theatre and cinema. A handful of excellent performances can’t redeem Les Mis.
|Starring:||Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter|