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New Release Review - Les Miserables

Directed by: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Samantha Barks

Big screen version of the popular stage musical.

In the 1949 comedy 'Passport to Pimlico', a borough of London is revealed to be legally under French rule. In Hooper's adaptation of 'Les Mis', the reverse would appear to be true. Despite the French setting, every character seems to have come from Britain or one of its colonies. Were it not for the occasional glimpse of a fluttering Tricolore, you would believe the events were taking place in the east end of London. As cultural appropriation goes, it makes last year's hideous 'Anna Karenina' seem like a faithful representation of nineteenth century Russia. Call this nitpicking if you will, but there's something inherently wrong with hearing "Vive la France" roared in a Cockney accent.
Accents are the least of the film's problems however. Let's acknowledge the elephant in the room before it shits on the carpet; most of the cast can't sing. Hearing Hathaway's butchering of 'I dreamed a dream' reminded me why I don't watch talent shows. Hooper made the brave but ill-judged decision to have almost the entire narrative sung rather than have intermittent musical sequences. In addition to killing the impact of the big numbers, most of which are annoyingly just variations on the tune of 'I dreamed a dream', this means we have to listen to bad singing through the whole film. Hathaway and Crowe are particularly grueling on the ears, though thankfully the former has little screen time. If they wanted a star name in the cast why couldn't they have given the role to an actual singer? Think of how good Beyonce would have been in Hathaway's role. Yes, she's black, but when you're casting an American as a French Cockney that's the least of your worries. The presence of Jackman and, especially, Barks, former Broadway and West End stars respectively, only serves to highlight the vocal deficiencies of the other cast members.
Hooper's 2010 Best Director Oscar win showed just how ridiculous the Academy Awards have become. He began his career in British TV and, frankly, that's where he belongs. Film-makers have always been drawn to the musical as it offers them a legitimate opportunity to let loose visually. Hooper doesn't have a visually creative bone in his body and his "directing" here consists of little more than photographing moving lips. He might as well have taken a leaf from Lars Von Trier and just filmed the round-table rehearsal. 'Les Miserables' ultimately serves as a near three hour example of what can happen when mediocrity is rewarded. Wise, Minnelli and Berkeley are turning in their graves.
1/10


Eric Hillis