Sing Misery: Star-studded cast shows off powerful voices in remake of Hugo classic Les Misérables.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Les Misérables is a big, lavish Hollywood production of an equally extravagant Broadway musical. It looks and sounds phenomenal, and the sweeping story resonates on screen nearly as well as it does when viewed live. With one big exception, that is.
Russell Crowe was formerly the lead singer in a rock band, so it’s not like he can’t carry a tune. But as Javert, Crowe doesn’t have the vocal range needed to play a worthy foil to Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean. Javert needs to have a booming voice that matches Valjean’s, making the men rivals in story and tenor.
What we get from Crowe, especially in comparison to Jackman’s impassioned, powerful voice, sounds muted and unworthy. Who should they have cast instead of Crowe? Gerard Butler would’ve been the best choice. He has the screen presence and we know he can sing after The Phantom of the Opera (2004).
The story, based on Victor Hugo’s novel, is set in early 1800s France and follows Inspector Javert as he searches for Valjean, who has violated his parole. After being shown mercy by a bishop, Valjean redeems himself with a lifetime of good deeds, including caring for Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), a girl who was orphaned after her mother Fantine’s (Anne Hathaway) death.
This is an all-singing musical, meaning even the slower talking moments are spoken in melody. All the singing was performed and recorded live on the set to the tune of a piano, then orchestral music was added in post-production. This is a rarity: Ordinarily musical actors record songs in a studio during pre-production then lip-synch on set.
And what great voices on display! Jackman tugs at the heart on all his songs – particularly “Who Am I?” – and on top of that he gives a moving dramatic performance. Hathaway’s “I Dreamed A Dream” is probably enough to win her a supporting actress Oscar; note the way it’s filmed in a one-take close-up, allowing us to feel the anguish Fantine is experiencing. Sometimes the best thing a director can do is get out of the way; kudos to Tom Hooper for letting Hathaway shine.
Other standouts: Samantha Barks delivers a heartbreaking version of Eponine’s “On My Own,” which she sings because she loves Marius (Eddie Redmayne), who has feelings for Cosette. You’ll be humming the finale’s “Do You Hear The People Sing?” as you leave the theater.
The only other disappointment? Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter do a tame version of “Master of the House.”
The story spans more than 30 years, so it’s a bit odd that it feels both rushed and long. This is because small plot points are moved through very quickly, and some songs feel extraneous. It’s a big job to adapt this musical for the screen, and while it’s not perfect, Les Misérables newcomers and fans of the Broadway show will be satisfied.
LES MISÉRABLES (3) • Directed by Tom Hooper • Starring Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman. • Rated PG-13 • 157 min. • At Del Monte Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas, Maya Cinemas.