I wish I had seen this movie right when it first came out, almost two months ago, rather than only yesterday when it's finally been shown in Italy. It would have been more simple - and funny, even. To attack it, I mean - and how can one NOT attack a movie which is sold as a kind of mystical experience and then turns out to be... well, just average? Les Miserables was a perfect target - a too easy target, even. Now, if one wants to be original, the only way would be to say good things about it.
Ok, that would be too much maybe. But at least let's try to be fair - and some critics have been a bit too unfair, honestly. It's true - the movie is at times almost unbearably sentimental, an old-style tearjerkrer even (it didn't make me cry, of course, but many around me WERE crying). Yet that's exactly an important aspect of Victor Hugo as a writer - he became so beloved, so popular (maybe the most popular writer of his time) because, let's face it, he made his readers cry. We can't forget this. His characters were so larger-than-life, in their misfortunes even, in their tragic and often unchangeable destiny, that readers suffered with them, cried with them. And the movie perfectly preserves this - how could it not? It would have been a big mistake. Les Miserables without tears wouldn't be Les Miserables.
Oh, of course Victor Hugo wasn't just that. He was a deep moral writer, a philosopher even, and a profound thinker, and while THESE aspects are conspicuously absent in this film version, I mean, honestly, did we seriously expect to find them here? In a musical? I didn't - what I expected was the by-now famous story, more or less faithfully told, with songs for a change - and this is what I got. I knew that this wasn't the place for intense moral confrontations. So I wasn't disappointed.
Not by that, I mean. Because otherwise Les Miserables has plenty of flaws, and for example I don't know if I have ever seen a movie musical so unimaginatively, lethargically directed (I admit that I haven't seen too many musicals though). The direction is terrible, really. And not for the much talked-about close-ups, no - or at least not only for those. It has no epic power, it doesn't have a rhythm, and even in the potentially cinematic scenes of the Revolution it's so... inert, dead. It just looks like as if it was shot on a stage - on a theatre stage I mean. It's a pity - a different, more original director could have given the material the energy, the movement, it badly needs.
And then there are the songs. Now, let me first say that I actually liked that they were sung live by the actors - they werent always perfect but they were real, raw. Still, I have no idea if it's because of the way they were performed, or if they really are like that - but they are also so unmemorable. I don't know, it was probably the actors, because for example Russell Crowe has a song about the stars which didn't seem that bad except that it was sung in a very tiresome way. But if there's no song in your head when you leave the cinema, something must be very wrong.
The actors are generally acceptable (except Crowe, who doesn't have the almost devilish power one expects from Javert, and doesnt even try). None, of course, should have been Oscar-nominated, but yes, I'd say that they are acceptable. Still, I can vaguely understand why the Academy picked Jackman and Hathaway - if one likes Les Miserables, one will like at least Jean Valjean and Fantine. I haven't read the novel, but I've seen countless Jean Valjeans and Fantines. French, American, Italian... Countless. Jackman isn't a bad actor and of course he doesn't have the typically French grandeur of a Depardieu or a Gabin (though Gabin's version was terrible), but he does what he has to do and does it with a certain undeniable professionalism. I have more problems with Anne Hathway, who REALLY plays pathetic in the most extreme, and unfortunately predictable, way - but then I must admit that all Fantines were more or less like that; actresses had this small but meaty role of a total victim and threw into it with an absolute lack of control. Valentina Cortese is the best I've seen and even Cortese honestly couldn't completely avoid that. And it's actually nice that a character which was invented 150 years ago can still move people so much. But an Oscar for this?! Absurd.