Sunday, December 30, 2012

Les Miserables Review - Much to love. Much to be tweaked by

Saw Les Mis today.

I fully expect Ms. Hathaway and Mr. Jackman to stand on stage and accept their Academy Awards (her in support and him for leading actor). They both did a terrific job. Hathaway especially blew me away. She has an expressive face and she used it so well to show us Fantine's choices, pride, sacrifices and suffering. Nicely done.

I always expect Hugh Jackman will blow me away as he does in pretty much everything I've seen him in. He didn't disappoint. Beautiful, intimate, grand, passionate, and so very committed to his character and his craft - he always brings it!

Crowe did a passable job. What he did well was to finally, finally show me  Javert's innate self-loathing. I've seen the show several times but I've never seen that interpretation done so well before. However, Hooper's choices in filming often got in the way of what Crowe was doing (if I saw him up on that ledge walking the line one more time, I was going to throw something.) But more on Hooper's directorial choices later.

Once again, Cosette makes me want to throw things too and this isn't the actress's fault. In some ways, I feel like the character is a ninny. "Oh, I saw him and I fell in love and what's more I'm willing to endanger my father (for all intents and purposes) for the chance to write him a note." Blah blah blah. And I never understand how, as the older Cosette, she is so innocent. She spent a good bit of time in that pub as a child. She saw things and worked for them as a little slave. How is it that later she is such a babe in the woods? Why isn't she more aware, more sophisticated? Even if her father gives her everything and protects her, she ought to still have some memory of her life before him, oughtn't she?

Like Christine in Phantom of the Opera, she is another ingenue who is portrayed as worthy of love just because of what she looks like. It's so tiring. She might be a shrew or snooty, or she might like kicking puppies, but she is a pretty blond girl and so he must love her. And Marius, like so many before him, falls for someone he's never met and knows nothing about. That's not the movie's fault and I realize that, but I needed to rail against this paradigm for a minute.

One thing that the movie brought home to me is that war - the bloody, visceral devastating aspects of it - is truly a young man's game. The generals seldom die. It's the young wet-behind-the-ears recruits or enlisted people who die in battle.  The young revolutionaries were pretty much boys: young, passionate, willing to die for their cause, even if it meant that they fought alone. (On some level, hell, on most levels, I am certain they had no idea just what they were facing. At that age, I think we all still feel immortal and invincible.) They didn't really think the rest of Paris would carry on about their business. They thought, they hoped Paris would rise, but they were so very wrong. The last moment of this revolution poignantly brought that to the surface.

The supporting cast was stellar. Eponine was tremendous. She did a great job and yet again, I sat bummed that Marius didn't choose her. The story is timeless in its way. The friend, the one who's been there for you, the one who loves you with everything she has is the one you ask to go see about the girl you just fell in love with because you saw her cross the street. You don't see it. You don't see her. You are blind to her love and her loyalty until it is too late to do anything about it. Hugo got that part very and tragically right. They didn't spend as much time on Eponine in this version of Les Mis (which I find sad as she holds a special place in my heart) but her tale is old as time in its way and it's one many, if not all, of us can relate to. Gavroche also did a great job. He will continue to delight as he gets older and I look forward to more of his work.

And now, I come to what bothered me most about the movie. The camera work was mostly okay. But why Hooper felt he needed to have the lens up the actors' nostrils as they sang is completely beyond me. Don't get me wrong. I really liked the technique of having them sing live. I thought it brought an immediacy and lovely intimate quality to each song (and boy there are a lot of them). So, I'm pleased that he did such a radical thing. However, the extreme close-ups for such a long time weren't necessary for either character development or to move the story along. I wish he had left that as something to use sparingly rather than a "I must focus in one is left eye and keep the camera there for three verses" technique. 

Oh and the other thing that bothered me, as soon as anyone finished singing their intimate song while the camera hovered like a hummingbird around their eyelashes, the camera would sweep away and up, up, up, like it was attached to Superman's cape. Why would he do that more than once? If he had done it once, to make the point that it was a sweeping and grand story, song, theme, etc., that is all it would have taken to show it. But, no, he used it multiple times and therefore diminished its impact.

The last thing I want to say is a pet peeve I have with many period piece movies. Why is it that no matter when or where a movie takes place that everyone speaks with English accents? The movie takes place in France. Why is everyone British? Why is Gavroche speaking with a cockney accent? I might have been able to let it go but I kept getting pulled out of the movie when they would suddenly and for a brief second switch to a french accent for a "Mademoiselle" or a "Pardon" and then jump right back into their British accents. I guess nowadays it's just how things are done and so everyone does it, but I wish they would choose a different set of rules.

In the end, I enjoyed many parts of the movie despite the moviemaking parts of the movie. The acting for the most part was superb (if a trifle overdone at times). I enjoyed the immediacy of the singing. I thought the sets were wonderful. The supporting cast did a great job and disturbed me and made me love them and hate them as appropriate (Fantine's scene on the boat right before "I dreamed a dream," was tear, fear, and vomit inducing all at once). I wish Hooper had made some different choices. And maybe he does as well. In the meantime, he did it. He got it made, on his terms, and with that he has not only shown a piece of history, he has made it, as well.

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