It only took 5 minutes until the terror dawned on me. Nothing matches the sinking feeling that Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman’s speak-singing will have to be endured for a further 152 minutes. That’s 2 and a half more hours. More than that, even. Warbling deliriously and nonsensically, furthering no dramatic purpose. Awkward and painful. Agonising.
After 20 minutes the headache began. First in my head, then reaching down to my neck and shoulders. Yes, that is possible. Hugh Jackman sings straight into the camera, looking awkward. A man is looking at us, seeming dead inside. The feeling becomes mutual. Anne Hathaway makes herself look ugly, award-givers go hysterical. She sings a really pretty song quite well but it still doesn’t feel right.
After 40 minutes I accept the culprit of the agony. Hooper. Yes, you, Tom. You who directed The King’s Speech with grandiose and style. I blame you for this. This is suffocating cinema. There is no pause from the warbling, no room for breath as the set would change on stage or the audience would applaud. Such an adored musical full of famously pretty songs is made to feel ugly. It’s like being locked inside a prison cell revolving around in a circle without any relief from the nausea. Or it’s like an autotuned version of the phonebook. That’s not to say the film uses autotune – it was recorded live on set and sounds incredibly unpolished, not in a good way. However, like that autotuned phonebook, the speak-sung ‘melodies’ make no sense, sounding crass and sickly. It uses actors who simply can’t sing live on set well enough to pull off the feat but most of all, Hooper makes them warble.
Time stops making sense but at some point I recall being told (SPOILERS) that lots of characters die. I find some solace and can hold on to something. Warblers cannot warble forever.
At one point the warbling meshes into a big belter of a song, a little salvation, the revolution is coming and it’s all starting to kick off. For a brief 4 minutes, something is felt. For once it’s exciting. One Day More. This is a brilliant song. It’s being done well. It would be tough not to do it well, but if there was a way to not do it well, then this film would have managed it. But then it vanishes and we’re left with more warbling close-ups.
Hooper loves his close ups. It’s like he saw the stage show from the balcony and realised “you know what would make this different, if I was really close up”. There’s no variety, just closeups. Little moments can’t be made to feel like they’re personal, big moments can’t be made to feel grander. We will just have a closeup.
A man behind me grumbles “for fuck’s sakes”, gets his things and leaves. The cinema finds an ounce of sincerity.
By the end, I was wondering more about my fellow cinema goers than the film. Actually, I was wondering about them quite a lot throughout the ordeal. Lots of us were laughing on the inside at the film’s terrifying awkwardness, right? We were all just too embarrassed to be the first one to do it out loud, yeah?
We’re at the end and the woman next to me cries. Before the film started she told her friend that she was worried this moment would come but she didn’t have any tissues. She must be crying into her sleeve, poor thing. I don’t have any tissues. Head pounding, two and a half hours later, horrified at the cinematic disaster produced by such an admired director, I start crying into my sleeve. We share a moment.
Review by David Rank
Les Misérables is released on 11th January in the UK. Certificate 12A (UK). Running time 157 mins.
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