Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Les Misérables, dir. Tom Hooper, scr. William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer, st. Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen

Here's a recipe for success if ever there was one; take the second-longest running musical in the world, add an acclaimed director fresh from delivering one of the most triumphant British films ever in 2010's The King's Speech, mix in a cast of A-listers that'll pull the crowds, but pique enough "What? They sing?" curiosity, and negotiate an Awards-season release date that massages its credibility. Of course, haters gonna hate - especially those who cling to West End memories like life rafts - and indeed, not all their neuroses concerning the film go unfounded, but for the most part, Les Misérables succeeds as a bona fide blockbusting spectacle, substantial on heavy-spread emotional interweaving narratives, and possessing a grimy gutter-chic production design that's sorely missing from the stage show. Pruned of the set changes and applause between numbers that help break up the theatrical experience into more manageable amuse-bouches, Hooper's film is relentless but never tedious. And rightly so, for there's a wealth of plot to get through. The much talked about 'live sound' is a winner too. To explain; songs are traditionally recorded beforehand in the studio and then mimed on-set when it comes to film the scene. Hooper's film has the actors singing live, on-set, with the orchestra as the element that's dubbed on in post-production. As you might expect this enables the singing to be more immediate and cemented into the fabric of the story - great for actors wanting their sung and unsung performances to be commensurate with each other, and great for those members of the audience for whom musical numbers distract from the drama. The film's centrepiece is the much publicised one-take, full-frame rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream", arguably Les Misérables' most famous (but not best) song, and beloved of Drama School auditonees nationwide. Anne Hathaway, shorn, ragged and crumpled like John Hurt's Winston Smith, is more astonishing in this three-minute segment than in the rest of her impassioned but average wider performance, and despite myself, moved me if not to tears, than certainly sad sniffs. Also worthy of note is Jackman as Jean Valjean. It's no mean feat to go from Wolverine's ruggedly icy stoicism to Valjean's humble fragility, yet he manages it, sustained in no small part to a voice of control and resonance. It's rather more difficult to assess Russell Crowe as Javert; not as instantly dismissible as Helena Bonham Carter as Helena Bonham Carter playing Mme Thenardier, there is something of the foundation-rocked inspector flickering behind the eyes, but it's too distant and suplexed by a ropey singing voice too come through. With it's multiple, multiple deaths and intricate, searching themes that take in everything from poverty and class, ambition, survival, guilt, parenthood, redemption, and loves lost, found, returned and unrequited, Les Misérables is a palpable hit, but the real star is Boublil and Schönberg's enduring and ageless source material.