One of the best things about a trip to the cinema is the feeling of well-being, the spiritual uplift that accompanies a really good film. You stand up as the credits roll (or wait until the very last line, as I usually do) and want to hold onto that sense of the possible, the expansiveness of life that has been illuminated on this silver screen in the darkness.
Anyone of a creative mind might wonder at the process by which an idea becomes reality. What peculiar alchemy turns a good idea into good art? There are hours of unlovely toil, production meetings, funding issues, self-doubt, red tape.
I’m prompted to reflect on all of this having belatedly caught Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables last night. It’s not without its flaws; the editing jars slightly at times and its stage origins are impossible to hide, but in judging as a whole it is only fair to use the word that immediately came to mind as the cast list rolled up the screen – brilliant.
I’m guessing much of the audience will already have been familiar with the story, either from stage or page. I will admit to being clueless, beyond a passing familiarity with the characters’ names. In addition, having heard so-so reviews from friends, my expectations were lowered from the first amazed viewing of the trailer. Thus unburdened, I was free to enjoy the story as it unfolded.
As something of a musical film philistine who struggles with the artificiality of the medium, I found myself being swept along on the tide of emotion, thoroughly enjoying all the performances and finding no distraction in following the plot through song. The songs, orchestration and score are just too good and it would be churlish to suggest otherwise.
There has been much comment and some criticism of the director’s decision to have the cast sing live. Given the results, I can’t see what the fuss is about. The performances are universally fantastic, lending an unprecedented realism to musical film. Even Russell Crowe has been unfairly maligned; although he can’t match Hugh Jackman’s vocals I suspect that’s not the point. He was the right actor for the part. Amanda Seyfried sings like a bird and Anne Hathaway has the most expressive singing face I’ve ever seen. Aside from the headliners, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s rendition of Master of the House was a highlight, as was little Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche. Bravo all round.
One of the purposes of art is to reveal what is hidden within us, the innate longing for reason, beauty and truth. Les Misérables, with its themes of redemption, duty and morality, surely fits that criterion. Having started the novel twice but made little progress, perhaps the time has come to revisit Victor Hugo?