Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables

I tagged along with my wife and her mom to see Tom Hooper’s cinematic take on the musical, Les Misérables (as opposed to Bille August’s non-musical take on the novel in 1998). I admit having walked in with tainted expectations ever since reading the exhaustive and excellent critical take-down of the movie’s cinematography by Film Crit Hulk. But I’ve always loved the musical (one of the rare few I enjoy), so what the heck. Preconceived notions aside, I formed what I believe to be my own thoughts on the film. The old adage goes, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”, so I’ll start with the nice.

I felt the acting was generally very good, from the leads to the supporting cast. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway were believably emotive while Russell Crowe was appropriately intense. The singing from the non-movie-star supporting cast was often excellent, particularly Éponine, and of course, the music is mostly the same music I love from the stage musical.

But some things are miserable indeed in Hooper’s Les Mis…

The top-billed cast were not up to the vocal task. Crowe and Jackman sang through their noses. Amanda Seyfried warbled. Hathaway’s pitch wandered. I’m particularly upset about Hathaway’s singing since, in interviews, she so frequently referred to her mother’s role as Fantine in the original touring musical cast.

But the visuals bothered me as much as the singing. The editing frequently recalled Michael Bay’s frenetic cutting every few seconds for no discernible reason. The shot choices and cinematography made me feel claustrophobic; where we should have seen many wide shots emphasizing the scale of situations we instead spent half the film looking up Hugh Jackman’s nose. The overuse of wide-angle lenses, shots below character eye-lines, and hand-held cinematograpy made the whole world feel false and disorienting – even when we should have felt joy and celebration.

Whether or not my opinions were corrupted ahead of time, the entire movie felt musically and visually unstable.