Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Les Miserables

On January 6th, we went to see the other "big" movie of the season, the film adaptation of the musical "Les Miserables". We enjoyed this very much as well, although, again, our joy was not unmixed.

It was a bold (although, for Hollywood, not unexpected)move to cast "name" performers not known for their singing, in a musical famous for its near-operatic structure and score. Yes,I know that Hugh Jackman won a Tony on Broadway, but having a voice that is basically competent for musical theatre does not necessarily mean you are a wonderful singer. Analysis after the movie caused us to conclude that the main reason that most reviewers tended to find Jackman good in the role of Jean Valjean, while criticizing Russell Crowe as Javert, is that Jackman has an expressive face that allows him to "sell" his songs (particularly with the aid of the close-up), whereas Crowe's beefy visage just looks stolid, even when singing his big final number. Or, as Georgie put it, "Both men can act, and both can sing. Jackman can act and sing at the same time, and Crowe can't." In my opinion, both were adequate singers but neither great. The role of Valjean is near the top of Jackman's range, such that he is near falsetto quite often, which causes him to lack flexibility and intensity, which is a shortcoming particularly in Valjean's signature song, "Bring Him Home" ("Hear my prayer--"). Crowe also has a high voice which doesn't sit well with the part of Javert, usually a baritone, so he also lacks the growling power called for in the role.

The best singing in the movie belongs to the women, with first place going to Anne Hathaway in the role of Fantine. Her "I Dreamed a Dream" is as touching as any I have heard. A close second is "On My Own," Eponine's song of unrequited love, as sung by Samantha Barks (who is actually a veteran of the stage version).

Ensemble where present is very good, and the company appropriately stirring on anthems such as "Red and Black," and "Do You Hear the People Sing?"

Digital sound is obviously an advantage and allowed the immediacy of the actors being recorded on the sets as shot, rather than dubbed later. I predict there will be an Oscar for sound engineering for this accomplishment. Also, the actors that have the ability can use a wider range of dynamics and expression than if they had to fill a 2000-seat auditorium with their voices.

Unfortunately, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter are jarringly bizarre as the larcenous Thenarediers, which is more a problem of the production and the direction than the actors (Bonham Carter's actual performance is actually rather understated). They are SO overblown caricatures of untrustworthiness no one in his right mind would have come near them, let alone enter the den of thieves they are calling an inn. The choreography for "Master of the House," which shows them fleecing patrons of everything from eyeglasses to glass eyes, would have had the gendarmerie down on them in seconds. The couple is intended to be the comic relief in the musical, but this version went way over the top.

Production values are very high, and I think Victor Hugo would have approved of the vizualization of Valjean's factory, the harrowing tale of Fantine's desperation and degradation, and the dirty and scrofulous-looking poor. Costumes look well and period-appropriate, and settings were mostly interesting and believable. A notable exception is the opening sequence, which shows Valjean and hundreds of other convicts deployed with hawsers, hand-towing a listing ship into an open drydock. A DRY drydock, which is nevertheless OPEN to the stormy sea! Whomever came up with this concept obviously has no idea how a drydock works. As it was, the scene had me saying "What?". Fortunately the effect soon wore off.

Verdict: well worth seeing for the acting and the spectacle. Then, go find "2010 Les Misérables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary" on DVD and hear the singing as it should be heard.

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Tags: movies, musicals
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