Sometimes a great cast, superb performances, grand production design and brave direction still doesn’t make a great movie, and Tom Hooper’s much hyped Oscar bait Les Miserables falls smack in the middle of that category. It doesn’t help that Russell Crowe’s singing voice sounds like a bunch of geese in excruciating pain.
Based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel of the same name and coming after the three hundred gajillion film, TV and Broadway adaptations, Les Miserables is a fascinating failure that implodes at nearly each and every bombastic live song performance. As Hooper’s camera juts in and out of the actors’ nostrils, he mercilessly whips the performers to sing live on the set – a stunning feat that exudes glory with enormous talents like Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathway, newcomer Samantha Barks but stabs your eyes and ears each time the likes of Amanda Seyfried and Crowe show up and clumsily assault their own vocal cords. The only respite in the unbelievably long two and a half hours runtime is courtesy of the excellent Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as scheming innkeepers – the two seem to have entered the movie set right after filming Sweeney Todd, a noticeably finer and less pretentious play-to-feature example.
Jackman stars as Jean Valjean, a destitute man imprisoned for years for stealing just loaf of bread; after being paroled and escaping from the cops, he assumes a new name and becomes the Mayor. Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), however, still plans on bringing the ex-convict Mayor to justice. Valjean also faces the bitter guilt of being responsible for the misfortunes of his poor worker Fantine (Hathaway) and adopts her daughter (Seyfried) as penance. The narrative splutters, chugs and falls into pit of horse dung with each song, never really flowing the way a Broadway should, neither providing the escapist entertainment a movie should. Hathaway’s ‘I dreamed a dream’ is stunning to watch of course, though not a patch on Susan Boyle’s performance of the same on YouTube. The biggest problem isn’t the ham-fisted close-up-singing as much as the horribly detailed plot – unless you have mastered the history of 19th century France, you will have absolutely no idea of the proceedings. The narrative is so dense Les Miserables could as well have been set in Bel Air and it wouldn’t have made a lick of a difference to the story. Hooper also fails to flesh out the enmity between Valjean and Javert, reducing their scenes of rivalry and conflict to something out of a Deepak Tijori-Vivek Mushran encounter.
The problem with Les Miserables is that it is an overtly elaborate production that seems grand just because the filmmakers say that it can be. As a result the overdone film becomes an underwhelming experience, a spectacle instead of being spectacular. Only a cameo of The Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff in French attires could have made Les Miserables a less miserable butt numbathon.
(First published in MiD Day)