“Les Miserables” Review: Tom Hooper Attempts To Destroy His Own Movie


By Wesley Emblidge

Anne Hathaway in “Les Miserables”

Most bad films are, at their core, just poorly written. Even a great cast and director can’t save a mediocre script, but a good script can usually save a mediocre cast or director. However it seems in the case of “Les Miserables,” the new adaptation of the critically acclaimed musical, director Tom Hooper seems to have attempted to ruin a promising film with his direction itself. Unfortunately for Hooper, the cast and the music don’t let him devolve it into a terrible film, but it almost gets there, with bizarre pacing and simply incompetent camera work. The script itself has its own problems, but Hooper overshadows them with his excessive close ups and shaky cam.

In 1823 France, ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has recently been released from a long prison sentence. After breaking his parole, he is pursued by the tireless inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). Several years later, Valjean, having assumed a new name and become mayor of a small town, encounters the destitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a poor factory worker forced into prostitution in order to support her child. Before Fantine dies, Valjean swears to protect her child, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), and then takes the girl away from her former caretakers, the Thenardiers (Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen). Time passes, and the story’s focus expands to also include a group of idealistic revolutionaries including the young Marius (Eddie Redmayne). Marius and Cosette fall in love even as Javert continues to hunt Valjean, the revolutionaries fight a hopeless battle, and Valjean further develops his sense of purpose.

In general, the film really loses itself after the first 45 minutes. This isn’t to say that “Les Miserables” does not have its high points, though. Hathaway is incredible, pouring so much emotion into her time on screen that even in her very few scenes, she makes more impact than anyone else in the film. The one time Hooper’s close ups really work is with Hathaway’s main musical number, “I Dreamed a Dream,” but once she’s gone and you’ve been dealing with Hooper’s style for a while, the cinematography starts to get really tiresome. That’s not to mention the film is over two and a half hours long, and it really feels it, unlike the other Christmas day release this year, “Django Unchained.”

The one good idea Hooper brought to the table was singing on set. In most musicals, actors will record their songs beforehand and then lip sync to the recording tracks while filming. Hooper took an innovative route by choosing to have his cast really sing live in their shots, which was a pretty inspired decision. Take for example Jackman, who is also fantastic, singing the opening number while towing a boat in from sea, being splashed with water and exhausted; all of these things affect his singing, making it feel more grounded and allowing him to actually act in a way he wouldn’t have been able to do in a recording studio. The cast breathes so much more emotion into the songs, and it makes it feel more like a live stage version, in a good way.

However, there are many parts of this film that feel stagey in a terrible way. The entire last act just feels like it’s on a set rather than a real place, to the point that the big set pieces just feel silly. Hooper wants his close ups to give a more personal feel and the shaky camera to make the place feel real, but instead it just feels constrained. You rarely see anyone but the lead actors because we’re always in tight on their faces. It all feels fake; it feels like a play. I’m dreading the eventual Best Director nomination (and maybe win) Hooper will get when the film goes up for Best Picture, rather than someone who brought actually original filming choices to their film.

“Les Miserables” still barely works, though, thanks to a mostly great cast and rousing musical numbers; I actually want to see the stage show now to see if the story is more bearable when you aren’t stuck looking through Hooper’s lens. Les Miserables isn’t awful, but the cast and the subject material deserves a film much better than this disjointed mess of a movie.


3/5 Stars