When it was revealed that a Les Miserables musical movie was being made, I was excited to see how the songs and the overall feel of the play could translate to screen. Everything I heard about the film made it sound better and better. An excellent cast, live singing and Oscar winning director Tom Hooper at the helm. I was really looking forward to seeing how this could compete with my all time favourite movie musical, Across the Universe. Well today I went to see the film and it was okay, just okay.Well starting off with the excellent stuff, the performances are great for the most part. Hugh Jackman is a great Jean Valjean, Eddie Redmayne does a brilliant job with Marius and Samantha Barks is really good as Eponine. Amanda Seyfried doesn’t really get much to do and feels a bit lost though and Russell Crowe is pretty bad as Javert, although he does a great job with his final song. Anne Hathaway meanwhile is really good as Fantine with a really powerful voice but I feel she’s pretty over-rated for this film as she doesn’t really add much to the character that isn’t in the songs and all the awards glory she’s getting should be for her much better performance in The Dark Knight Rises. The stand-outs though are Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thenadiers. They are so much fun to watch, they get all the best lines and they have a brilliant chemistry with each other. Their main song, Master of the House was my favourite part of the film, you just can’t help but smile every time they are on screen.
If only the same can be said about the characters. Whilst Jean Valjean and Javert do get some depth, the rest of the characters feel very one note. The main casualties of this are Cossete and Eponine. It feels like their only purpose in the plot is to set up other characters, mainly Marius. I didn’t feel any connection to these characters at all and as such all the big emotional moments felt a bit flat to me.
The songs are all excellent and show why the stage show has been running for so long and this is helped by great singing performances, bar Russell Crowe. The stand-outs on a singing level are easily Eddie Redmayne, who gives an incredible performance of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and, of course, Anne Hathaway who has an incredibly strong singing voice, suited to the tone of the film. This helps show that the songs are not all happy and show a sense of real pain and loss for the characters.
However, these songs are ruined by a terrible structure and pace. Several songs all come one after the other at some points in the film with there being no room for the audience to breath and prepare themselves for the next song before it starts. The worst case of this is that three songs of high emotional stakes (On My Own, One Day More and The People’s Song) are all played one after the other with no break. This means that I didn’t have time to fully react to each song before the next one started. This also leads to a lack of continuity between the scenes in terms of time, it feels like everyone ages in the film except Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, in fact Jackman looked younger at the end of the film than at the start and I don’t know how that works.
Linking into this is the poor direction by Tom Hooper. Whilst the production design is excellent there are a number of weird decisions made which makes it so they cannot be fully appreciated, like the over-use of the Dutch Angle. This extends to the songs as, to show off the actors singing live, most of the songs are filmed in one-take close ups. Now I love the use of single shot scenes in a big film but when virtually every single song is done like this then it doesn’t allow for the mechanics of film to be fully utilised. It feels like a real visionary director should have been given this to make the scenes more than close ups and walking up and down corridors (what was going on with that in the church with Jackman) and it feels like the perfect choice would have been Julie Taymor. She showed in Across the Universe that you can do live singing with creative visual elements and utilising the language of film (just look at Happiness is a Warm Gun if you don’t believe me) and in this film, it feels like Tom Hooper is making an adaptation of a stage show first and a film second.
Overall, a pretty mixed bag, the great performances, songs and production design help prevent the film from being bad but the poor structure and direction make it so it isn’t a great film. It’s just an okay film, nothing more, nothing less.
My Rating: 3/5