Sunday, February 3, 2013

Les Miserables (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Les Miserables

Melodramatic lovers can finally come together waving their tricolor tissues. The beloved "Les Mis" has arrived. On the positive side, director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), infuses the film with a cinematic floridity that would almost make Steven Spielberg wish for his E.T. finger of 1982. And it has the panache of Hugh Jackman  as our hero in exile, Jean Valjean. He is a magnetic crowd pleaser.

Less than stellar however  is Russell Crowe who does not seem quite engaged in his role  and his singing seems to suffer a bit from a lack of oxygen. As the man- you- love- to-hate, Crowe's Javert, is  unemotional and his face is invariably fused in a steady wrinkle. He is neither formidable nor fear inducing as the man bent on exacting The Law.

Still there is enough Broadway push and pull to satisfy any "Les Mis" fan and the music is rousing. Hugh Jackman is a definite highlight with his bramble- bearded Christ-like interpretation of a man waging a karmic battle through no fault of his own. Jackman's face alone is a cinematic study and his shocked expressions rival the religious portraits of Master Bertram.

Anne Hathaway does a good turn as well as the saintly Fantine. Like Jackman she also holds the screen fully and completely. She is compellingly watchable and the camera loves her.

These two characters are the bedrock of the film, but it is Sacha Baron Cohen as a corrupt innkeeper that livens things up, providing a bit of irreverence when needed, although he does borrow a bit from Johnny Depp ala "Sweeney Todd".

While it is true that the music is iconic rousing and hard to refuse, the drama does get repetitive. Nearly every character is racked with sobs and while I know this is a Broadway musical it feels a bit claustrophobic and remote onscreen. There is so much flag-waving, suffering, sweating, cannon-fire, sickness and beseeching, all with a gray palate.  I felt pressed upon for two plus hours. And it does take forever for Javert to find M. Valjean. But we all know that Broadway is not known for its narrative expediency.

Despite a few lulls, mainly due to Russell Crowe's fixed boulder-like stare "Les Miserables" is sure to please, especially among its legion of fans. The battle scenes in particular have a verve to match the iron-rich song list. The all-encompassing eye of Tom Hooper's camera recall the grand adventures of George Stevens and Douglas Sirk.

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