Wednesday, January 30, 2013

LES MISERABLES (2012): Less Miserable Than Expected

Director Tom Hooper adopted a huge legacy when he agreed to make yet another version of Victor Hugo’s classic French tale. There are two French film versions of the story: the epic Raymond Bernard production of 1934 and the lesser-known 1958 film directed by Jean-Paul Le Chanois. Hollywood presented its own adaptation in the 1935 20th Century Fox production starring Fredric March, Charles Laughton, and Cedric Hardwicke. A few years later they followed up with the 1952 film starring Elsa Lanchester and Edmund Gwenn. The most recent LES MISERABLES (1998) stars Liam Neeson, whom I distinctly remember drooling over in middle school French class.
LES MISERABLES (2012) opens with the stunning scene of prisoners using huge ropes to haul a toppled frigate into dock to be mended. The vast impossibility of the task is aggrandized by the camera’s sweeping gaze – it is nothing less than spectacular cinematography. The look and feel of the film as a whole is spot on in capturing the atmosphere of revolution as displayed in the story. Everything from the costumes to the set contributes to creating the grungy, starving environment that was post-revolutionary Paris. All very well done, if perhaps a little gory (there’s blood and stuff sometimes).

After having practically every one of my friends, in addition to the hordes of online blogging critics, inform me of the tragedy that is Russell Crowe’s voice, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was, if not melodious, at least tolerable. His performance on the other hand was somewhat less than impressive – if anything it was a bit boring, especially for such a meaty character as Javert. Poor dear Amanda Seyfried’s pathetic warblings were almost more than my poor ears could bear. I can’t help thinking Jane Wisener, who played Johanna in TimBurton’s SWEENEY TODD (2007), would have been a wiser casting choice.
Anne Hathaway's Fantine sings "I Dreamed A Dream"
One casting choice that cannot be faulted however, is that of Anne Hathaway as the fallen Fantine. That chick’s got pipes! Although she had comparatively little screen time, Hathaway stole the show with her portrayal of the desperate mother who was willing to sell her soul (and her hair and teeth and body) to save her daughter. Her degradation was portrayed in a much more graphic manner than I was expecting, but the force of her performance lived up to the quality of the film as a whole.

Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the Thénardiers
Other performances of note are given by two Brits with three names – Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. As the bawdy landlords, the Thénardiers, they provide a few laughs in the midst of a rather serious situation. At first I felt guilty laughing as much as I did at their dishonest shenanigans, but then I thought, “No – it’s Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen. I will laugh as much as I damn well please!” I must have been doing something right, because it wasn’t long before the whole theatre was laughing with me.

Margaret's Rating: 8/10 

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