Powerful performances overcome some directorial issues
by Stuart Munro
These scenes often required new bits of musical dialogue, and it is a credit to the writers that these new sections always worked.
The screenplay by original authors Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg and Herbert Kretzmer, as well as English screenwriter and playwright William Nicholson, thankfully, maintains most of the sung material, including a lot of the recitative; what is removed is done so because the information can more easily be shown on screen than on stage. The decisions for what to cut and what to keep are usually smart and well considered. A few songs have been moved around, sometimes working well (“I dreamed a dream,” “Stars”), and sometimes not (“On my own”). Moreover, the screenwriters had the opportunity to include elements from the novel which didn’t make it into the stage adaptation: most noticeably the sojourn at the convent after Valjean rescues Cosette, but also the inclusion of Marius’s grandfather, the pulling of Fantine’s teeth, and the funeral of General Lamarque as the catalyst for the rebellion. These scenes often required new bits of musical dialogue, and it is a credit to the writers that these new sections always worked. Additionally, a new song, “Suddenly,” has been written for Valjean for the moment after he rescues Cosette and is easily one of the most successful additions seen in a movie musical since EVITA’s “You must love me.”
Helming this massive undertaking is director Tom Hooper, best known for “The King’s Speech.” Aside from assembling a stunning cast, Hooper has overseen an impressive design; his Paris is dirty and dingy, and the desperation of the characters singing “Look down . . .” or “At the end of the day . . .” easily flies off the screen to reach the audience. Hooper uses a lot of close-ups (one could argue too many close-ups) which, more often than not, succeed in making this larger than life musical a more personal affair – the trade off is that some of the epic nature of the score is lost, and numbers like “One day more” and “Do you hear the people sing?” fall a little flat. The decision in this film to use live singing in every take (instead of lip-synching to a prerecorded track) has paid off brilliantly. There is a clear connection to the text here that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in a movie musical before. With a little luck, this practice will become the new standard.