I want you all to imagine that I’m singing, slightly out of tune and with tons of vibrato, every word of this entire review. That will give you an inkling of what I had to endure for the two and a half hour runtime of Les Miserables. While there were flashes of brilliance here and there, the film, for the most part, irritated me beyond belief. For a few key reasons that I will get into below. I also want to preface what I’m about to say with, I really enjoy musicals and love the story that this particular musical tells, but found that the delivery here was the entirety of the problem, not the musical as it were. So, let us dig in.
First and foremost the singing was atrocious. I would say around 75% of the singing was completely out of tune. If I never hear Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe ever sing anything again, it will be too soon. I think Hugh Jackman was doing his best neutered mountain goat impersonation while Russell Crowe sounded like a drunken bull performing his mating call. They were the worst offenders. But there were others, oh yes, there were others. Eddie Redmayne did his best post puberty Kermit D. Frog impersonation throughout, and Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter, while both were hilarious and acted their parts well, couldn’t begin to sing if their lives depended on it. But that could have been the point. That being said there were some exceptions, namely Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and Samantha Barks. All three performed flawlessly and shamed the rest of the cast with their admirable performances and ability to both act and sing simultaneously. Yes, it can be done and was done quite well by these three lovely women.
My second issue with the film was the way every singing actor was photographed. When someone was singing they were filmed uncomfortably close which then took you out of the world they had spent so much time meticulously crafting. The sets were truly beautiful and well photographed, but as soon as a solo came, you were no longer in that world. You were living on the surface of the actors’ faces and if you’ve ever seen Les Miz you know that the solos aren’t short by any means. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Hooper attempted to shake things up with different camera angles, but in the end they were just different angles of the actor’s face. Imagine two and a half hours of a face singing out of tune, and that should give you some idea of what most of the film consisted of.
The two issues listed above were enough to completely ruin the experience for me. It was all so distracting that I couldn’t feel the emotions in the story. They were there right in front of me but endlessly out of reach. This really irritated me for the simple fact that Les Miserables is a beautiful and dark story about life, love, loss, redemption, and rebellion. The story will literally tear your heart out and then laugh at you while you’re weeping. I never got to experience any of these things though, because instead I was counting down the minutes until the endless close up face-out of tune-songs would end, and I could leave and get on with my life.
I could go on and on about the things I didn’t like in the film, such as the shaky cam action scene work that made me feel like I was in a watered down version of The Bourne Supremacy, or the phoned in audio mix, but I’m gonna stop short. I’m going to say that I didn’t enjoy Les Miserables not because the story wasn’t there, because let’s be honest, it’s all there, but because of what this could have been. Instead we get a limp wristed, half-assed attempt at one of the greatest musicals in history. Unfortunately, I think that all of this will go unnoticed mostly because the play has an enormous following. And why wouldn’t it? It’s absolutely incredible in every way and I think most will find the film an expensive, fully realized rendering of their most favorite musical. I, on the other, can’t say any of that in good conscience.
I mentioned above that the film has its moments of brilliance. Most included scenes where there were choruses of people singing. These moments sounded, looked and felt great but the moments were few and far between and couldn’t, in my mind, make up for the film’s glaring issues. I think in the end I’m more heartbroken than anything of what could have been, and what ultimately never was. A great film, this is not. Lazy may be a better descriptor.
I give it a 2.5 out of 5
By Brandon Bray