By RYAN O'LEARY Photography COURTESY OF LES MISÉRABLES PINTEREST
Walking into the movie theater, it is difficult not to expect great things out of Les Miserables. The musical—which is based upon the Victor Hugo novel—is generally regarded as one of the greatest musicals of all time. The film is directed by Tom Hooper, who just two years ago won the Academy Award for the film The King’s Speech. Even the live recording of the vocal tracks managed to excite those of a more technical persuasion. Keeping all this in mind, and my general disinterest towards the genre of musicals, I tried to keep an open mind watching the film. What I saw was a deeply flawed film whose strengths are deeply intertwined with its flaws.
Set in early 19th-century France during the French Revolution, Les Miserables focuses on the plight of Jean Valjean, a burly French peasant. The performances are for the most part solid, if unremarkable. Jackman does a suitable job, as does Crowe. But it is Hathaway in the role of Fantaine that truly stands out. Though she is only in the film for the first hour, she manages to steal the entire film. Her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream," all done in one close-up take, is an exquisitely heartfelt moment in filmmaking that is heart wrenchingly emotional. That the rest of the film for the most part cannot live up to this moment is a shame.
Stylistically, the majority of the movie is filming in close ups. And while this reliance upon close ups enables such profound moments as Hathaway’s performance, it also manages to stifle many of the films other performances. Few of the other songs are grand or unique enough to endure such unrelenting tight shots for long periods of time. The performances sometimes feel very long, and often overstay their welcome. And with a running time of two hours and forty minutes, it does not just have a long running time, it feels like a long one as well.
Walking out of the film version of Les Miserables, I had very mixed opinions. The running time and style of the film leads to a movie that has some incredibly highs, but just as many lows. The film is worth seeing, if only for Hathaway’s performance. But come Oscar time, it will hopefully be disregarded so that more worthy films can get their well deserved respect.