FILM: “Les Miserables” Will Divide Audience Opinions [Berkshire on Stage]

Review by Larry Murray

For the film “Les Misérables,” director Tom Hooper took a perfectly good musical which is normally viewed in a theatre at 50 or more paces from the stage and zoomed in. Cinematographer Danny Cohen photographed it so closely that the camera does everything but swoop up Anne Hathaway’s nostrils for her by now famous rendition of “another day dawning,” her hair cropped so close she looks like her own twin brother. Hooper, by all accounts, spent months in the editing room with Chris Dickens choosing – it seems – the most dramatic close up of each sung lyric that they could find. So close, in fact, that half the time you almost feel as if you are in bed with the performers.You can hear them breathing next to you.

Real theatricality would never benefit from “Les Miz” being smooshed in your face like a piece of wedding cake, yet every song is subjected to extreme closeups as if to underline the perfect synchronization between actors and score. Much has been made of the fact that Hooper recorded the voices as the actors acted, not afterwards. It is a novel approach and I liked the honesty of the voices, but it was undermined by the oppressive intimacy. In fact, in one of the first reviews to appear, critic Todd McCarthy wrote in The Hollywood Reporter: “A gallery of stellar performers wages a Sisyphean battle against musical diarrhea and a laboriously repetitive visual approach.” My, my, my, that’s harsh. I wouldn’t go that far.

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