A one-note musical that could've been worst
Before we get into this review, I want to make this real quick. I have never heard of Les Miserables until now, either the classic novel from Victor Hugo or the many musical adaptations that came with it. I feel really embarassed not to know how much of a huge iconic piece of work the book has become working on the themes of the French Revolution, slavery, the rich and the poor and love. Since I was not familiar with any of these works, I would like to review this under single own terms of the movie.
In Tom Hooper's adaptation of Les Miserables, in an era right after the French Revolution began, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) was sentenced to nineteen years imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread. He jumped parole and is on the radar of Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Eight years later he became the mayor of the town in France; during his time, he finds an ill and struggling mother Fantine (Anne Hathaway) and agrees to look after her daughter Cosette. Few years later and the struggle between the poor and the power also known as the June Rebellion. Cosette grew up into an angelic teenager (Amanda Seyfried) with a fellow revolutionary falling over her while Valjean will have to run from every footstep of Javert because he's on the hunt for him.
Given how I wasn't that all impressed with Hooper's previous effort, The King's Speech, I would want to give him the benefit of a doubt because for this film, it requires such a higher scope with aspects like production design, acting, cinematography and musical rotation needed to be put in place. The visuals and the tone provided are gritty in a musical with some good cinematography from Danny Cohen and some huge art direction. I really liked how Hooper has placed some attention to detail as he puts long takes into the sequences. For example, when Anne Hathaway sings I Dreamed A Dream, the camerawork remains with her and so she's trying to convey some heartbreaking emotion. That's a great scene.
And speaking of Hathaway, she was unbelievable as Fatine, the vulnerable and unstable mother of Cossette. She contributes much to the film's emotional weight that she's the obvious highlight of the entire film. Also moving were the child performers who are much better than their adult counterparts, which I'll get into later. Isabelle Allen plays the young and iconic Cosette making much of a moving presence while Alastair Brmmer who plays the youngest member of the ABC, is also remarkable as the motivated kid leading the rebellion.
With all that said, there are glaring flaws within this film. For this film and The King's Speech, I've found out my problem with Tom Hooper's direction and that is since he is all for theatrics and visuals together, these films' narrative have either fell flat or turned into a giant mess. And that's what Les Miserables could have been. The film have little dialogue and for a musical that clocks around two and a half hours, this is one continuous stretched-out number. 99% of the film has one sequence after another. The problem is though the film never takes a break and whenever they can, it's only for 10 to 30 seconds. It is one gruelling exercise and this film really needs slow moments because audience needs to learn patience and admire atmosphere. And with this, it shows that Hooper feels like if they go to a break, we would then become bored. I asked an old man sitting next to me who have seen the musical whether that was like this, I realize that Hooper followed too closely with its respective musical. So the more the movie relies on its musical sequences, the more they quickly lose their focus on the plots which involves a love story between Marius and Cosette in which the former ignore Eponine's interests for him, the ABC Revolutionaries and Valjean's run from Javert. And most unfortunate is that the film becomes excruciatingly tedious.
For a film that often consists of sequences, you'd expect most of the cast to have some passion being in this film. While Hugh Jackman has an eminent ability to hit a high note, and while his character has a lot of depth, he doesn't have much charisma to broaden it out. I have also felt that there are a number of performers who are really miscast. Russell Crowe sings like he's Bane actually singing and that his comeuppance feels too soon and sudden. Amanda Seyfried who plays the older Cosette is left out for almost three quarters of the movie and therefore she is not a well-developed character and has little left to do in this film.Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen who plays the grotesque innkeepers, overstays their welcome and adds little in their comedy relief. So here the cast couldn't really carry much of the film because of the heavy handed direction of Tom Hooper.
So Les Miserables is a massively disappointing adaptation of Hugo's novel and for Hooper who has to live up from the expectations coming off from The King's Speech, it comes as not exceeding much. The film is overwhelmed with huge production design and overblown performances trying to conveythe biggest emotion possible. The numbers as ambitious as Hooper's direction, are almost repetitive and never leaves the movie out. The saving graces for this film are the visuals of the film which create a gritty atmosphere, the filmmaker's attention to detail and Anne Hathaway's sandout performance which is sad given how she only appears for like ten minutes. This might've have been the epic that the musical and book has set up but it ultimately comes as boring.