Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 2, 2013

Jackman, Hathaway delight in ‘Les Miserables’

Andy Stuckey, Ryan Maddux
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — This week we continue our look at awards season favorites with Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables (PG-13).

Based on the beloved stage musical of the same name, Les Mis stars Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russel Crowe leading an all-star ensemble cast.

Ryan: Les Miserables isn’t a franchise but it is a brand in and of itself. It’s one of the most beloved musicals of all time with a rabid fan base and a culture to go with it. Much like say, a superhero film, moviegoers are going to approach this movie with many different perspectives and expectations. I for one have not seen the entire stage production (lightning storm on an Indy spring afternoon jammed that attempt) so I was approaching the movie more or less as a Les Miserables neophyte. All-in-all Hooper’s Les Miserables is an applaudable cinematic musical. I do have some issues with the film — mainly some of Hooper’s film-making decisions — but the performances (most of them, at least) alone make the film worth watching.

Andy: Having seen the musical twice on stage and also having endured many embarrassing private sing-along moments with the soundtrack of Les Miserable, it is safe to say that I went into the movie as a big fan. For me, being a fan of this musical is all about the songs themselves, and the film version does not disappoint. Much has been made of the “singing-while-acting” recording technique used in the film, and the result is a unique and powerful set of performances of some of the most beloved songs from musical theater. The technique does not always work (it is particularly clunky in the transitional scenes), but when it does (Anne Hathaway’s stunning solo), it makes for some of the best cinema of the year.

Ryan: I applaud Hooper in how he filmed the singing—by having the actors actually sing live on set as opposed to mixing in a studio track in post-production. Consequently the performances are not always as polished as they could have been but they are emotionally satisfying especially in conveying the operatic-like themes in the film. While that aspect of the film worked, some of Hooper’s other directorial decisions leave a lot to be desired. Some of the action in the film takes place at night and there are many of those scenes that are filmed in a manner where it’s difficult to see what is happening. Secondly Hooper doesn’t always display a firm grasp in how the movie was shot and framed. It seems that the camera was either jarringly up close on the performers or erratically distance from the action. It felt like there was no in between. It just made for a not-always-pleasant movie-watching experience.

Andy: Hooper’s film version highlights some flaws that have always been present in Les Miserables. Primarily, the story barely holds together. If one is familiar with the story you can keep up okay, but for somebody looking to see a good tale set to music, the narrative jumps around, follows characters that are underdeveloped, and introduces a brand new major story arc almost two hours in. It is easier to overlook these plot issues in a stage performance, but the film seems to drag at times and appear messy because of it.

Ryan: Les Miserables arrived in theaters with a lot of Oscar buzz. And a lot of it is justified. With the expanded Best Picture field, it will more than likely secure a nomination (although its chances of winning are slim). It is also a safe bet that both Hugh Jackman (Best Actor) and Anne Hathaway (Best Supporting Actress) will secure nominations. I don’t think Jackman is the favorite to win, but he put forth a solid performance with a role that has already been defined by other (stage) performers. Hathaway’s performance arrived with even more fanfare (and with the expected back-lash) but she delivered in a big way—plain and simple.

Andy: The performances in Les Miserable, were largely up and down. Hathaway is amazing and deserves every award she is given for her three-minute lesson in how to emote during “I Dreamed a Dream,” but she is gone for almost the entire two thirds of the movie.

Jackman does a great job of carrying the movie in a role that would have likely been disastrous for most leading men in Hollywood today. Russell Crowe stumbles badly with his muted take on Javert, and Eddie Redmayne is largely ineffective as third act love interest Marius. These weaker performances tamp down the glow of some of the best performances of the year by Jackman and Hathaway.

Despite Hooper’s erratic directing style, Le Miserables succeeds more often than not.

Final grade: B.