Sunday, 13 January 2013

Les Miserables

If nothing else the arrival of this film has given us a masterclass in marketing and promotion. The level of expectation that surrounds this film's release is massive - but does it deliver?

I need to say that I am not a fan of musicals - they always seem so contrived and unnatural to me. However, that aside, this film is a visual, musical and acting tour-de-force. It is not without its flaws though. As compelling as the two male leads (Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe) are, there are times when their vocal performances lack the usual sparkle. Some of the CGI looks wonderful whilst some of it looks a little odd. In this film all of the dialogue is sung which makes telling the story a slow and sometimes tortuous affair. I imagine that the film is very close to the stage play but at 2:37 with periods where the pace slows to a crawl, I felt it could have lost half and hour and been better for it.

The story is a well known one and does not need to be rehearsed here. This is a morality tale (of a different kind to that of Jack Reacher!). It is a story that trades in a currency of strong emotions and feelings - hope, love, betrayal, sacrifice, disappointment and faith. It is a story of oppression and betrayal, of abject poverty and opulent excess - a story of the haves and have nots. These emotions and privations are portrayed with such tangible veracity by the cast that at times watching the film becomes emotionally draining - and of course these feelings are perfectly orchestrated by the score and powerful lyrics. I managed to hold it together until the appearance of Fantine's ghost!

The scale of the sets and visualisation of the set pieces are stunning as are the vivid colours. The opening scene in the dry dock at Portsmouth and the ways in which Greenwich Naval College are transformed into Bourbon Paris are breath-taking. Much of the camera work is hand-held and has a fluid intimacy about it. Some of the songs, particularly the solos, are quite long and while that may work fine on stage there were quite a few times when it looked as though the Director didn't quite know what to do visually to allow the story to be told. Consequently there was a lot of vertical panning to pass the time!

All of the performers give strong performances. Anne Hathaway's Fantine and Samantha Barks'  Ã‰ponine are particularly convincing. Eddie Redmayne acts and sings convincingly and the child performances from Isabelle Allen as the young Cossette and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche are also noteworthy - but why Gavroche should sound as cockney as someone from the cast of Oliver is a mystery! Comic relief is provided by the double-act of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the inn keepers M. et Mme. Thénardier who were both wonderful.

So, does it deliver? I am sure that this film will draw huge crowds (60+ million have seen the stage play) and the DVD sales will be immense. Its revenues have already repaid the production costs of $61m and it's only just opened. I wish it well, as good as it was I'm not in a hurry to see it again but I'll give it 8/10.

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