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“Les Misérables” – Early Review (POSITIVE)

December 20, 2012

Screen shot 2012-12-20 at 12.55.49 AMOscar winner, Tom Hooper makes a daring decision after winning his first Best Directing award for “The Kings Speech”; many film aficionados wondered what he would do next.  I don’t think any of us would have guessed that he would adapt the Broadway musical version of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables”. For me that really came out of left field, not to mention the casting of Russell Crowe. Now, Hugh Jackman & Anne Hathaway I can understand, but Russell Crowe? Singing? In a musical? SINGING!? It’s unheard of, but I’ll digress, what was surly to be a gamble for young Hooper, turns out to be another smart career making choice, and will surly immortalize him as one of the top bravest directors working today.

It’s the 19th century, France is in the midst of a revolution, and Prisoner 24601, known as Jean Valjean (Jackman), is caught in the middle of many life altering dilemmas. Valjean was enslaved for stealing a loaf of bread, after serving his time under the tyranny of Javert (Crowe); suddenly he’s released from prison. Jean breaks parole the first chance he gets to create a new life for himself while evading the grip of the persistent Inspector Javert.  Jean journeys through a few decades of life altering decisions for himself that sets him down a path of righteousness, forgiveness, redemption, and ever-lasting love. The films climactic battle is set during the famous June revolt in Paris, France.

I truly believe that the time for change, regarding how movie musical should be done, need to take a long look at this movie, watch it several times, take notes, because for the most part, everything this movie does is on the money. It’s unlike any musical I’ve ever seen or heard, unlike most cinematic musicals, “Les Misérables” makes a bold choice to have all the singing done live, instead of pre-recorded lip-syncing. Its purpose is to give the actors a greater dramatic range in their characters performance as well as making the lyrics they sing have more emotional depth and feeling. Take Fantine’s (Hathaway) famous ‘I Dream the Dream’ sequence, the camera holds on her the entire time of the song and all we see is the powerful, raw dramatic performances in her eyes. You cannot deny the fact that the movie grabs you on a greater emotional level than any musical movie out there.

One of the best elements about this movie was the camera work. I thoroughly enjoyed the organically done camera work, mostly hand-held throughout the film, Overall it’s quite good, the aesthetic feel reminded me a lot of how “The Tree of Life” was presented to viewers. Hooper and his DP, Danny Cohen, made a justifiable effort to make sure this movie didn’t look like a staged play or become the typical Hollywood musical format; it preferred realism over pronominal presentation.

Screen shot 2012-12-20 at 1.03.52 AMThe cast was absolutely 100% astounding; Jackman & Hathaway are both shoe-ins for Oscar potential. Anne was in the movie for about 25 minutes, she made it her mission to own those 25 minutes as best she could, and without question delivered some of her best work yet. Hugh is very familiar with song and dance, with his Broadway background, this was a synch, however playing a role like Jean Valjean would be quite a challenge for him, not just for him playing the role, but convincing fans of his that he has the chops to pull off an emotionally gratifying performance. But, the one performance that had my attention since the early trailer was Russell Crowe; could he sing? And if so, how good was he? Well, I can honestly say that Crowe has managed to reveal a hidden talent, not only can he sing, but he’s damn good at it too.

The movie does make a few other questionable choices, for a two and half plus hour runtime, it manages to make some fast paced cuts, it even jumps timelines simply in the blink of an eye. The movie has so much fast pacing that when it does find those hidden moments to slow down, it almost feels a bit daunting at times. Not to mention I think the love story between Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) & Marius (Eddie Redymayne) was the weakest link in the film. Undeveloped to no end, Marius simply sees Cosette from a distance and knows she’s the one. What, is this a Bruce Springsteen song? And Cosette is simply ok with this? She will devote herself to a man who has strong affections for her, austerely noticing her from afar, behind a crowd of angry French people? I’m sorry, but that’s a prime example of lazy writing, and completely unbelieveable, I’ve seen better love stories developed in far greater and/or sometimes terrible movies, than this. On a positive note, Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter steal every scene they’re in, that right there makes up for the underdeveloped love story.

By the end of the film, when the final encore reaches that pinnacle high point, you cannot help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer awesome spectacle the movie throws to you. You’ll cry, you’ll choke up, and you’ll certainly find yourself clapping by the time the end credits hit. To best describe this movie going experiences, this is a movie musical as if it were made by people who are not fans of the status quo musicals, you’ve got to admire that, if anything you’ll find the songs extremely profound if you’re coming into “Les Miz” as a first timer.

GRADE: A-

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