This article was suggested by a sentence in a previous essay by Mr. Alex Bean.
I’m the type of film lover who pays more attention to directors and writers than movie stars, and in the years since my return to the Midwest, one director who has gotten a prominent place on my watching list is Tom Hooper. Hooper has a unique set of artistic strengths, and more importantly, he makes terrific work. John Adams is one of the greatest television productions I’ve ever seen, and The King’s Speech is a type of film I love discovering: smart, witty, and full of emotion without ever feeling manipulative.
But though his work is in the first rank of quality, Hooper himself is a more dubious figure on my critical scale. It still rankles that he won the Best Director Oscar for 2010 over David Fincher and the Coen Brothers. Hooper’s filmmaking style is unimaginative, stagey, and technically dull. However, Hooper’s main goal in his films, I am convinced, is to let the actors take over. In his films and shows, every line of dialogue, every gesture, even every spot within the scene where a player stands, feels upon analysis to be as thought out and practiced as possible. I say “upon analysis” because in the immediate experience of watching, the actors are so confident and so dedicated as to mesmerize. Watch Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney in John Adams, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech, and you basically get an acting-for-the-screen clinic.
Which is why Hooper may have been the best choice to direct the long-gestating film version of Les Miserables, a film primed and ready for the Oscar season along with Mr. Bean’s choices Django Unchained and The Great Gatsby.
I can unashamedly say that I cried four times when I saw Les Miserables on stage, and the trailer does nothing to suggest that my eyes will remain dry for the movie. For while the show has its fantastic effects, most notably with that massive barricade, Les Miserables was never that much about the production in itself, in the way that The Phantom of the Opera and Disney’s musicals and Turn Off the Dark were. As if to confirm this, nothing in the trailer looks particularly new or dashing. Laborious period locations, plenty of shadows and sunsets, a barricade which looks right if unspectacular…the look is old-school Hollywood meets Merchant-Ivory, nothing we haven’t seen before, and Hooper’s keeping the camera static.
What makes Les Miserables is the characters, all of their melodramatic strokes, tragedies, moments of daring, taken almost unadulterated from Victor Hugo and given by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schoenberg the most stirring pop arias to sing, with gushing duets and rousing, audience-on-their-feet ensemble numbers thrown in for good measure. With this material, Hooper’s hypothetical philosophy of giving actors instructions and then getting out of the way is absolutely the right thing to do. And apparently, he brought his cast up to such a level that they sang every number live in front of the cameras, a decision unheard of for movie musicals.
It helps that, as the trailer suggests…
The film has been very well cast, I think. For years I, and I believe many others, have been waiting for Hugh Jackman to bring his Tony-winning pipes to a movie role which for once does not involve adamantium and other advanced technologies. Jackman looks to be an ideal Jean Valjean, a sensitive tower of strength, believable as a brawny convict and an all-sacrificing father figure, and he definitely has the voice to pull off “Bring Him Home” and the other numbers.
Russell Crowe, I have found, CAN sing in a gritty baritone, which is just right for the cold, snarling, monomaniacal Javert.
Cosette is wide-eyed, pretty, almost unsullied by reality…there was no better casting than Amanda Seyfried.
The trail gives us glimpses of Eddie Redmayne’s Marius, Samantha Barks’s Eponine (she played the role for a year in the West End and nails Eponine’s gritty-but-heart-wrenching tone), and Helena Bonham Carter (though there’s no sign of Sacha Baron Cohen) and they all look right…
However, I had to say that I think the film is well-cast (although this is a very sure thought) because the trailer reveals nothing about the singing of all of the above. The only voice we hear is that of Anne Hathway, singing “I Dreamed a Dream” and looking gorgeous and emotive as she melodically laments her fall from grace.
This is a bit misleading because she dies a quarter of the way through the film.
Still, this makes sense because Fantine is a tour-de-force role and “I Dreamed a Dream” is the big tune and most of all, Hathaway sings it just right. Her voice lacks the operatic quality of those who play the part on stage, but should Fantine sound that glorious? She’s a proud working-class woman, not a schoolgirl or belle, and Hathaway’s unaffected and pure voice fits the role more than well. From this early glimpse, she could win the Oscar she’s had due for four years now.
So Les Miserables looks like nothing more than a celluloid transcription, especially with Hooper as director, but the talent involved makes it a film more than worth seeing, and one I will see. I’ll just have to get the earlier examples of Jackman and Hathaway’s chemistry out of my head first.