|'Ever wanted to see Russell Crowe's tonsils vibrate? You're in luck!'|
Perhaps there was a clue in the title, but the main surprise with Les Misérables is just how glum and undercooked the whole thing feels. Tom Hooper, an Oscar-winning director, assembles copious amounts of talent for this classic bash at the popular musical, but then really fails to put much else on screen. A large opening rendition of Look Down, complete with gigantic ships in a huge harbour, is about as grand as it gets. Almost everything else could have been accomplished on stage.
The focus here is literally on the talent. Hooper shoots Les Misérables almost completely in close up. Ever wanted to see Russell Crowe's tonsils vibrate? You're in luck!
This approach has the arguably deliberate effect of making you very aware of how good or bad the lead's performances are; from the traditional 'acting' to the singing. Crowe is a surprise, his booming baritone suiting the pompous antagonist Javert. Anne Hathaway does a good job, particularly with her solo, but feels underused. Amanda Seyfried, whose voice is absolutely magnificent, blows everyone else away as soon as she pipes up.
The main problem is Hugh Jackman, whose voice increasingly sounds reedy and forced. Jean Valjean's hero qualities are of course in question from the very beginning but driven by Jackman's limping voice they remain so throughout. His character performance is convincing but don't expect him to release a Simon Cowell-backed tilt at the Christmas number one any time soon.
As Hooper forces us down the main cast's throats for what feels like an age, more and more problems creep in. During Stars, Crowe is on a roof over Paris, but how cinematic does it look? Not at all, comes the refrain from the stalls, one of the most clear cut missed opportunities in a movie chock full of them. Some brief lunatic comic relief arrives in the quadruple-barrelled duo of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. And then they stay. For the rest of the film.
It's difficult to say Les Misérables is bad, because some of the individual work here is excellent but that really is it. Hooper's decision to put the focus on the stars means they are the only reason to see his film. And even if Hathaway and Seyfried were to sing throughout, two hours and forty minutes is a long time to stare at close-ups of tonsils.