01 January 2013

Review: Les Misérables

Genre: Drama (Musical)

It saddens me to have to write that summarily Mr. Hooper's new film may - far more than its predecessor, a technically apt portrait - be best characterized by the simplistic adjective "weak". Weak acting cum singing, weak writing, weak editing, and - above all - weak cinematography undermine what could have been an even more compelling film than The King's Speech (2010).
Now, perhaps the weak writing could be excused by weakness in the source material; perhaps, for example, Javert as a character could be proven by the original text to be a spare, unidimensional automaton by nature. (Whether he be truly I cannot say, for I have not read that original text. I can say:) Still, the rest of the listed weaknesses cannot be similarly excused. In fact, by contrast, all the other weaknesses hinge on the final one; the abominable cinematography of this film makes for such difficult story-telling that the spectating audience is almost entirely reliant on the snippets of the background behind the singing actors' faces for gaining any sense of the action's location and is entirely reliant on those faces for gaining all sense of the action's emotion and direction. As I've mentioned on this blog before [though at present I can't find the post for citation], it's just too hard for actors to carry thus, via such tight bust shots alone, a whole film successfully. Success in such acting is akin to success in neurosurgery; delicate, fine-grained articulations make all the difference. With such a heaping swath of tight framing, the likelihood that each needed articulation is executed smoothly is terribly low; the story is visually too closely told to have a realistic chance at being quite good. Therefore, expectedly, it falters. It trips over its own breaks in pacing, in tone, in coherence.... Even Ms. Hathaway, whose performance in this year's The Dark Knight Rises I lauded and whose performance in this film I had eagerly anticipated, only shoddily delivered.
But two actors really stood apart from the rest and made their soliloquys' scenes entrancing and powerful: Mr. Redmayne and Ms. Allen. Mr. Redmayne, playing the young buck Marius, infuses into his role the ripe honesty and fraternity that personify Marius' embodiment of the spirit of the Revolution. It is forward thinking, forward thrusting, and forthright, and it weeps as he does well for the fellow champions of the cause who have fallen for it at his side. Singing his unique song "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," Mr. Redmayne is in full command of his character and evidences why he already has a Tony award. Ms. Allen, a much younger member of the cast, hums with the same accuracy and cohesion of person with place. Though only a girl, she is the frontispiece of not only the Revolution in spirit but also of the show in explicit visage. Thus, she must too carry in her bearing the resilience beneath weight that speaks to the hearts of the crowd, around both the French red, white, and blue and the English silver (screen). That she sweeps and trips with anything less is as a judgement unfair. These actors, plus only Mr. Delgado's costumes and Ms. Wetcott's make-up and somehow the magical coincidence of comedy within the "Master of the House" sequence, redeem in part this cinematic effort. Would that redemption held more.

Grade: C.

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