Les Miserables Not 2012’s Best, But Close To It

Courtesy:  Universal Pictures

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Adapting classical literature for the big screen is one of Hollywood’s most time honored traditions.  Countless books have been adapted for the silver screen since the industry’s Golden Era.  Just as common for movie studios to do is to adapt stage plays that have themselves been adapted from books.  So as common as this practice is even now in Hollywood’s modern era, it takes a lot to make a movie of this fashion stand out in today’s overly crowded movie market.  Enter the newest big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic story, Les Miserables.

The latest adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless story of redemption is one of the best movies of 2012.   It isn’t the year’s best.  But it does come close as it struggles with at least two glaring issues.  Those issues are the movie’s scene transitions and its general cinematography.  Much of the cinematography issue goes hand in hand with the problematic scene transitions.  Though there’s just as much problem with this movie’s shooting style not directly linked to the transitions in question.  Despite having issues with shooting and scene transitions, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives.  And those positives are many.

The most obvious problem weighing down this latest adaptation of Les Miserables is its shooting style (I.E. its cinematography).  Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) makes a valiant attempt to bring out as much of the emotion as possible from each scene with his shooting style.  The problem is that he tried too hard.  Throughout the story’s near three-hour run time, this shooting style is so consistent that it could potentially leave audiences feeling somewhat dizzy and even confused.  The cameras spin, cut, and make every other possible transition so much that it leaves audiences not knowing where they are going to go next.  It happens so much that it would be no surprise if it leaves some audiences so bothered by it that it makes audiences contemplate just walking out because they can’t take feeling the way which they feel.  The issue with the shooting style is just the tip of the iceberg for this movie’s problems.  To make matters worse, the shooting style is at times linked directly to its problematic scene transitions.

Anyone who has seen Les Miserable live on stage knows that while they take time, the scene transitions are smooth enough to keep track of exactly what’s going on in the story.  The case with the latest on-screen adaptation is the polar opposite of the stage play.  The scene transitions in this version happen so fast that viewers almost need a program to keep up with what’s happening.  This is one of the areas in which Hooper obviously struggled to do honor to the legacy established by this timeless classic.  Rather than making smooth transitions, it felt almost as if much of the movie was just a load of scenes tied together with jump cut edits.  Add in that problematic shooting style, and audiences get a work that felt anything but fluid.  Rather it felt like each scene was piecemealed together.  The two factors together made the movie noticeably less enjoyable than it could have been, despite the outstanding performance on the part of both Jackman and co-star Anne Hathaway.

While Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Get Smart, The Princess Diaries) isn’t technically a veteran in the acting business, she surprisingly proved herself in the role of Fantine.  Her chops as a singer were the most impressive part of her performance.  The emotion with which she sang made her portrayal fully believable.  There are those who have alleged that she was doing little more than simply hamming it up for the cameras.  But that obviously isn’t the case.  Considering her previous roles, this could finally be the one to catapult her to the upper echelons of the movie industry.  And while he is already in the businesses’ upper echelons, the choice of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean was common sense considering his current track record both on stage and screen.  He carried the movie on his shoulders.  Watching his moment of redemption at the story’s end will leave any viewer with more than just a tear in his or her eye.  Perhaps the only poor choice in casting this movie was that of Russell Crowe.  Crowe’s portrayal of Inspector Javert worked on the superficial level.  He is old enough that he looked the part.  But his general performance simply was not believable.  Luckily that was about the only poor choice in casting this take on the time honored classic.  That being the case, it is no surprise that this take on Les Miserables has been nominated for a handful of Golden Globes.  And it would be no surprise if it makes the Oscar nod list more than once, too.

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Philip Sayblack can be contacted at psayblack@wnct.com