Not Misérable, but Not Brilliant Either

Les Miserables image from iMDB

The last third or so of Les Misérables is really good. It is compelling, beautiful, emotional, and downright spectacular.

Unfortunately, you have to sit through the first two-thirds of the movie to get there.

Yes, I saw Les Misérables this week. I know that the musical it is based on has a reputation for brilliance, so I had high hopes that this film would blow my mind. Instead, it just felt weird. Don’t get me wrong, the film is absolutely beautiful to look at. Director Tom Hooper and Cinematographer Danny Cohen know how to wow with visuals. The last time they worked together, their film won the Oscar for Best Picture, after all. The problem is, up until the film’s dramatic third act, the audio and the visuals don’t exactly match up.

Here’s what I’m going on about: visually, Les Misérables decided to show a grim, gritty, realistic portrayal of life in post-revolutionary France. It looks like you are watching a historical period piece, like Titanic or The Tudors or Pride and Prejudice. However, what you hear is the classical musical that the film is actually based on. Maybe it’s just the way my brain works, but that felt like a strange disconnect that I simply couldn’t ignore. It was like, “Oh, so they’re singing? Okay. That’s bizarre.” Even though I knew, rationally, that they would be singing pretty much the whole movie through, it just didn’t feel right. Again, the final third was far better, but that was in large part because the characters and set pieces finally started to actually look like a Broadway musical. If they had kept that aesthetic the whole film through, it would probably have been a stronger film.

For example, this image is from the beginning of the film...

For example, this image is from the beginning of the film…

...and this one is from very near the end.

…and this one is from very near the end.

To further add to the sensory confusion is the fact that the filmmakers decided to (A) cast Hollywood actors like Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe, Anne Hathaway, and Sacha Baron Cohen, and then (B) to have them sing their lines live, instead of lip-syncing to a prior recording. While I appreciate the reasons why they would want to do this, i.e. to make it seem more sincere, the end result is a mixed bag. Russel Crowe and Anne Hathaway both turn out to have surprisingly good singing voices, but watching Hugh Jackman sing was odd. He didn’t disappear into the role the way most actors strive to; instead, I spent the whole movie going, “So now Wolverine is singing about a moral dilemma.”

And don’t get me started about Sacha Baron Cohen, who’s singing voice sounds about as beautiful as a running chainsaw against a blackboard in an echo chamber next to a jet engine. It’s bad, is what I’m saying.

For all of that, though, the film isn’t all that bad. It is visually stunning, it is reasonably faithful to its source material, and it has some really surprising great performances (again, Russel Crowe positively shines as Inspector Javert). But you can’t help but feel like the film could have been better. It’s like they had a bunch of really good ideas but didn’t fit them together right. Thus, the end result is kind of a mess. Not miserable, but not brilliant, either.

One Response to Not Misérable, but Not Brilliant Either

  1. Pingback: Third Time Awesome! | Cat Flag

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