Saturday, 26 January 2013
Les Misérables (2012)
I still maintain that one of the places you can find true beauty is in that of honest sadness. I'm not talking "boo hoo I did shit on an exam" or "I can't afford all the things I want", I mean proper, balls-to-the-wall, unapologetic despair. Fortunately, as you'd probably guess from the title, Les Misérables has got me covered on my despair quota for this month.
To get this bit out of the way: yes, it's a musical. And yes, I espouse my hate for musicals at more opportunities than it is welcome. But this, this is different. For one, a major factor in why I hate musicals is because the singing always feels so soulless and detached from the rest of the film but this isn't an issue here. Taking the gutsy move to have all performances done live on set (most musicals have the tracks recorded in studios months before the actors even meet on set) director Tom Hooper grants the songs the emotional impact they deserve. Trusting actors to perform, well, while they're performing allows for a whole new dimension of freedom on set; they don;t just have to stick with the track they laid down months ago. Secondly, pretty much the entire film is done "in song". Taking that move eliminates the weird jarring sensation that annoys me so much when people go from spoken dialogue to singing in most musicals. If you're gonna sing, go total immersion and don't let up. It's so much better for it, and the lines that are simply spoken carry so much extra weight.
The standard of the singing is immense and a testament to this method of film-making. There's been a lot of buzz around Anne Hathaway's rendition of Fantine's 'I Dreamed a Dream', and it's completely deserved. Her angry and melancholic version encapsulates the film in a nutshell and will the defining moment of the production for a long time to come. Hathaway's passionate and emotionally driven performance blows out of the water whatever technical showboating rendition that mad Scottish woman could come out with.
Hathaway stands out, but that's no slight on the rest of the cast. Everyone involved, including the fantastic Hugh Jackman and Russel Crowe as Jean val Jean and Inspector Jalvert respectively, knocks it out of the park. Another standout moment that's received notably less press but really stuck with me was Samantha Barks' version of Éponine's 'On My Own'. Fuckin' brilliant.
You really do the gauntlet of sadness with this film. Off the top of my head you've got: throwing away your life to save your families', the shame of becoming a vagrant thief, shame of selling yourself out jsut to support your family, being dehumanised into a piece of meat, physical mutilation*, unrequited love, guilt over not owning up to your own mistakes even if it's to protect others, fear of discovery, discovering that the work you've devoted your life to was an amoral cause, misguided youth being snuffed out amid a just crusade and countless others. So yeah, pretty sad, but beautifully so.
I can't recommend it enough. Even if you're a miserable bastard like myself who thinks they hate musicals, it'll get ya. I find it hard to believe there's been an eye that paid attention through the whole thing that stayed dry.
*I'll always give massive respect to anyone whose willing to physically change their body a great deal for a role especially if it's actually on screen. Hathaway cutting her hair off is to be commended just as much as Natalie Portman having her hair completely shaved in V For Vendetta, a scene I hold up to justify my choice of favourite actress.