Film review: Les Misérables

by Listener Archive / 03 January, 2013
Take every Éponine song, none of Fantine’s, and you’d just about have a good movie, says David Larsen.
Les Misérables
Les Misérables

Rejoice, for Tom Hooper has fixed Les Misérables. Yes, yes, it’s one of the classic stage musicals, with tunes to die for and a heartbreakingly good story. But there was never enough acting in it, was there? Hooper knows all about acting. It’s what wins you Best Director Oscars when you point your camera at it. Buckle up, people. We’re about to see lots of emoting. In extreme close-up.

Hooper seems never to have heard of bathos, which is what you get when you shoot for pathos and go too far. So he offers us Anne Hathaway, relentlessly desolate and anguished as the tragic Fantine: the worst, but not the only instance of heart-rending emotion being treated the way a three-year-old treats tomato sauce. A little is good? Let’s have the whole bottle.

Hooper’s other fundamental error is to encourage his cast to prioritise dramatic emphasis over fidelity to the melodic line, even though a good part of the drama in Les Misérables comes from the melodic line. Worst off ender: Hugh Jackman, whose Jean Valjean guts some of the best songs in the show by speaking their climactic cadences (desolate! anguished!) instead of singing them.

In the second half of this 157-minute slog, though, things come alive, with a fine bunch of younger singers arriving to portray the rebellious students and lost young lovers of 1830s Paris. Newcomer Samantha Barks leads the pack, sweetly convincing in another easy-tooverdo role, Éponine. Take every Éponine song, none of Fantine’s, and you’d just about have a good movie.

Rating: 3/5

LES MISERABLES, directed by Tom Hooper

Films are rated out of 5: 1 = abysmal; 5 = amazing
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