The widely acclaimed musical, ‘Les Miserables,’ hit theaters just in time for the holidays giving the cinephiles and movie goers something to rest their eyes on for this 2012 Christmas season. The film almost assuredly has a break-even success guarantee due to its preconceived audience that the novel and stage play of the same story has established. Whether the audience, who intends to see their beloved 19th Century French tragedy played out on the silver screen, will be impressed is wholly irrelevant due to the number of tickets that they will purchase in their endeavors. Point being, people will see this movie in hell or high water simply because of its namesake.
In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) daughter, Cosette(Amanda Seyfried). The fateful decision changes their lives forever. (IMDB Online)
With the supercharged cast, the film is already set up for critical acclaim. The performances throughout are top-notch, many of the scenes requiring prolonged believability, as the closeup draws audiences in to the bravura-inspiring emotional resonance that the movie needs to stay afloat. Nearly every character in the story has the singing equivalent of a monologue, which the entire film hangs on as the actor under the spotlight of the big screens proscenium arch must deliver. And needless to say, each man or woman does exactly that. These performances draw the people in as the misery that constitutes the environment of a garishly-exaggerated French Revolution makes up the world in which these characters must suffer. While I cannot say this is the best picture of the year (for reasons that I will address shortly), but it may certainly be the most melancholic. These performances are, perhaps, worthy of Oscars all around. Unfortunately, Daniel Day-Lewis and company are also in the running for awards, and Les Miserables shortcomings may prove to discredit the worth of these stunning performances.
Some major issues with the film come from the technical stand point, which I dare say that most audience members won’t notice consciously, but will indeed be aware of. Perhaps the artistic nature of the film stepped over the line at points, becoming extremely distracting. [ Note: the filmmaker in me is about to break loose, so what follows may simply be trifles to the rest of the world. ] For example, it seemed that every time a broad-daylight scene took place, the image was drastically over-exposed, which is an effective tool in some cases ( i.e. Spielberg has said that he overexposes in desert scenes in order to make the environment look hotter) but there seemed to be no genuine reason for the nearly whited-out image in pivotal moments. One might ask what this has to do with a normal audience view of the film and to that I answer: I remember the last shot before credits rolling being so (pardon my French) goddamn bright that when the screen cut to black, the afterimage was still burnt onto the screen and I couldn’t even read who directed the film. Several times throughout the movie, we crudely transitioned from a night scene to one of the sun-touched blinders that took place during the day and good Lord; it was like being punched in the face with an image. Other Filmmaking concerns, which I will list quickly, were the blown and extremely soft focus, sometimes missing the subject of the frame or simply losing the actor when intense movement was taken place. And the excessive camera-shake that really wasn’t justified in a movie that probably should’ve been shot to mimic the stage – and not Cloverfield or the Blair Witch Project. I bring these filmmaking things up for a reason, despite what seems like nit-picking. This movie may have had a shot at best picture, if it were not seemingly directed with amateur technique.
As a complete project, I’d have to give this movie a 6.5/10, which is actually a decent movie. Les Miserables was a film that was carried by the performances but fell short in regards to production. Form did not meet function in this case because this is one of the most notable works in history, so I dare say that the story was there. The potential energy, if I can use such a reference, was in fact staged for a great movie but all that was produced was a good one. I could probably sit through the film a second time, but after that it would be a miserable experience to try stomaching it for a third. Les Miserables was a daring project, but the film adaptation gives me no reason to believe that we needed a movie version of the already remembered work.