Heavily hyped and surrounded by deafening buzz, Les Misérables serves as Tom Hooper's follow up to the Oscar-winning drama The King's Speech and as this year's sole mainstream musical. It is considered a heavyweight in the Best Picture category... but it doesn't deserve it. Well done, beautifully acted and at times explosive, Les Misérables left me wanting more. Not more of the movie, but a more emotional connection.
Judging by the sniffling and outright sobbing by some people around me, I may be in the minority. But the truth remains.
Les Misérables stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, who is hunted over a series of decades by policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole and adopts an alternate identity. When he agrees to take in an orphan girl named Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen and Amanda Seyfried), his life is changed forever. Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Banks also star.
Aside from the opening CGI-painted shot of a tilted sailing ship, Les Misérables looks incredible, in terms of detail, cinematography, art design and scope. The settings feel both intimate and grand, the characters equally so. Director Tom Hooper has crafted a beautiful film that gets the most out of his actors.
And then some. Hugh Jackman turns in the best performance of his career, a gritty, emotional and powerful turn as any seen this year. Anne Hathaway, in a much smaller role, is absolutely spectacular and all but assured of landing an Oscar nomination. Russell Crowe is very good, though as the villain his musical numbers are less emotional, less riveting. Little known Samantha Barks, who played the same character Eponine in a London production of the show, is also stellar, though Hooper and his makeup artists were oddly afraid to paint her with the same grit and grime that covers everyone else. Eddie Redmayne didn't sell me at first, but his final solo is as powerful as any in the film.
Unfortunately, Les Misérables simply didn't blow me away. The first act is very good, Hooper's attention to detail and willingness to dive headfirst into the muck and grime unparalleled. It is in these earliest scenes where Jackman, and of course Hathaway, deliver many of the movie's most memorable scenes. But that can only mean the movie trends one direction. Isabelle Allen plays young Cosette and does it superbly well; unfortunately, once the movie jumps ahead another nine years, it largely loses its edge. Amanda Seyfried takes over the role of Cosette, and frankly didn't impress me.
But is it her fault? The chemistry between her and Redmayne is nonexistent, primarily because they share but a few lines of dialogue together until the end. Their emotional connection didn't resonate with me as an audience member; I could have cared less whether they ended up together or not. The movie also spends considerable time on a band of young French revolutionaries, but none of their characters are particularly relatable, memorable or deep. I didn't realize we were supposed to care for these individuals until they are gunned down, and even then I didn't care. A woman behind me sounded like she was about to throw herself off a bridge, however.
Les Misérables gets back on track toward the end, but by that point it is too late.
Perhaps I'm reacting sharply because expectations were so high for Les Misérables. The movie is, in fact, very well done. It features several terrific musical numbers and the acting, for the most part, is superb. It's worth seeing, and from the reaction in the theater it sounds like others may enjoy it more than I did. But simply put, Les Misérables doesn't reach its full potential because it doesn't connect on the emotional level it needed to.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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