Sunday, December 30, 2012

Australians in France!

Sorry, but that's the thought that kept coming to mind whenever Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe face each other down, which they do frequently, as Valjean and Javert in the movie of Les Misérables.

I read a lot of reviews of this movie before seeing it, many of which claimed the singing was terrible - wrong - and some of which went so far as to slam the musical itself for pedestrian lyrics and music. That I already knew was wrong, for I'd seen the show on stage, years ago. As B. puts it, Les Miz has only four tunes, and they get repeated over and over. But at least it has tunes, and they're good tunes that you can remember the next day, or, in truth, twenty years later. As I found when attending a "best of current Broadway" free show-in-the-park in Manhattan four years ago, none of those shows had anything I could still remember by the time we left the park at the end of the hour.

My personal jury is still out on the question of whether having the ballads whispered in close-ups is really more effective than having them belted out to the rafters on stage, plausibility be hanged. The plot mix seemed to tilt a lot more towards the personal over the epic than in my memory of the stage show, almost as if it were saying, "This crazy world doesn't amount to a hill of beans next to the problems of three little people," but that may be my hallucination.

Still, I will cop to the emotional effectiveness of the final scene, where Valjean dies before Cosette's eyes [oh, come on, surely we don't need spoiler warnings for this story], and his ghost gets up and slowly walks away, like Hazel's ghost at the end of Watership Down.

Particular casting points for having childhood and adult Éponines and Cosettes 1) who look enough like themselves at the other age that you can accept that they're the same person, and 2) who, all four of them, look enough like their putative mothers that you can accept that they're their daughters.

The only casting I found ineffective was Crowe's, actually. Javert is a man of rigid iron, and Crowe does better playing characters like Captain Jack or General Maximus, men of flexible steel. Singing aside, Crowe would have been better cast as Valjean. Mel Gibson, were he still the right age, and not crazy, and could sing, would have made a better Javert if you really need an Australian.

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