Saturday, 16 February 2013

Les Misérables

My husband and I finally went to see Les Misérables.  We both know the stage version and had heard good things about the movie, so we were looking forward to seeing it.  We were not disappointed; it's a great film, if emotionally draining.  I thought that I could keep some emotional detachment and avoid sobbing through two and a half hours of film, but it was difficult and I didn't always succeed.  Most of it is set in winter, with people wandering through the snow in bare feet and rags, and the bleakness of the setting matches the despair of the starving mobs of Paris during the student rebellion of 1832. 

The actors are film actors rather than musical theatre actors, with the exclusion of Hugh Jackman and Samantha Barks, so we weren't expecting the singing to be of Broadway theatre calibre.  That was fine because the performances mostly made up for it.  Mr. Jackman as Jean Valjean was wonderful.  Physically, it is not much of a stretch for "Wolverine"to play a character who is renowned for his strength.  Emotionally, he gives a deft and layered performance that had us in tears in several scenes.  Anne Hathaway gives a phenomenal performance as Fantine, the unwed mother who sinks into prostitution after unjustly losing her factory job.  Her singing is excellent, and the naked emotions on her face as she suffers one heart-wrenching degradation after another is so honest and real that it is hard to watch.  Samantha Barks as  Éponine, the unfortunate daughter of the thieving and heartless Thénardiers, is heart-breaking in her loneliness and unrequited love for the student, Marius.  Daniel Huttlestone gives an endearing performance as Gavroche, the child revolutionary who believes in the abilities of little people to get things done.  There were many other fine performances; my only disappointment was with Russell Crowe as the relentless Inspector Javert.  I'm not sure why Mr. Crowe's rendition wasn't as powerful as it should have been; I have nothing but admiration for his work normally.  But Javert is Jean Valjean's great adversary, a man who was born in a prison surrounded by the garbage that he believes all criminals to be, and it is his consummate belief in the sanctity of the law, without deviation and without mercy, that drives him into hunting for the escaped parolee for all those years.  My favourite Javert was played by Tony Perkins in a 1978 TV movie.  Imagine the deranged young man in Psycho playing the Inspector, and you'll have an inkling of the truly fine performance he gives.  I just checked, and the movie in on You Tube.  Check it out, if you get the chance.

The only other thing that I was not so crazy about was some of the really tight shots and fast-moving camera work.  I sometimes have a problem with nausea with today's big screens if I'm sitting too close and the camera work is jerky and moving around a lot.  I couldn't watch the second Jason Bourne film with Matt Damon for that reason.  But my husband, who has done some film and TV work, suggested that those tight shots were necessary to hide the microphone booms since the actors were singing live during the recording, so what can you do?

Go see the film, but don't go alone or with children, and take a fistful of tissues.

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