Cinematic musicals have the ability to tell/deliver unique compelling stories. So how could one of the most treasured stage plays of all-time sing so much yet say so little?
Yep, Les Miserables hits some sour notes (literally and figuratively) my friends. The 157 minute “saga” that unfolds in early 19th century France is a bloated production for better or worse.
The set designs are very impressive but the A.D.D. cinematography fails to fully capture a lot of it. And during pertinent moments between the characters, where a lingering camera would’ve drawn one in (‘cause the rambling lyrics/dialogue sure wasn’t doing it), it quickly cuts and shakes away.
Speaking of the characters, more specifically the performers, what a rollercoaster casting job this was. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and scene-stealing Samantha Barks, know what they’re doing in this arena; Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried…not so much. And with all due respect, the bass-y Crowe can’t hold a note to save his life. The guy’s vocals were seriously becoming laughable save for one instance. And the only time any reminisce of laughter should be had in this gritty dramatic piece is through Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, as they portray two scheming pick-pockets. But based on the material those two were given they just didn’t have much of an opportunity to spice this up.
When factoring in the singing, which in this musical, is non-stop (some screen adaptations do have pockets of normal dialogue), the only times it became engaging was during the “dueling tracks.” (Two performers are singing different lyrics but on the same song). Some of the small supporting players chimed in nicely during their quick-hitting fill-ins, but the sound track if you will just doesn’t grab you.
This takes place during a civil uprising, yet the central storyline is about a fugitive (Jackman) who has been dodging a revered general (Crowe) for over 15 years. As the “chase” commences, Jackman crosses path with some of the above named performers and tiny subplots are weaved in. But in the grand scheme of things, they are meaningless. And even with the extended runtime, these said subplots are never cultivated to the point of making one care.
Delivered in true stage play fashion, the last 40 minutes (after the “intermission) has something to it. But the near two-hour setup will have you, ironically, tuning out quickly.
Overall, Les Miserables is produced on a grand scale and is dressed fairly well. It would appear director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) bit more off than he could chew with such a large production, though. Add in a mixed casting bag belting out empty songs and all you get is a pretty girl without a whole hell of a lot to say (substance).
Les Miserables is rated PG-13 and opens in the Tampa Bay market on Christmas Day.