Brow Beat

Trailer Critic: Les Misérables

Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables

Anne Hathaway sings “I Dreamed a Dream” as Fantine in the trailer for Les Misérables.

Still from the trailer for Les Misérables.

The trailer for Tom Hooper’s big Oscar-baiting adaptation of Les Misérables may end by promising that “The Dream Lives This Christmas,” but you wouldn’t know it from the version of “I Dreamed a Dream” that takes center stage in this trailer. Over immaculate art direction and costume design, Hathaway’s tattered and bereft performance becomes the only thing that provides real pathos in this first look at the film.

Opening with a man (presumably Jean Valjean) clambering up a long steep slope, the trailer focuses squarely on the story’s images of struggle, framing them in painterly compositions, often saturated with the famous red, white, and blue of the French flag. Since this is Les Misérables circa 2012 you might wonder whether the film might aim for resonance and take an Occupy the Bastille tone—but there seems to be little evidence of that here. Instead we get the tables of a sweatshop squared neatly in a symmetrical overhead shot. And aren’t those starving kids just precious? I can’t help but wish the poverty wasn’t so meticulously aestheticized.

“I Dreamed a Dream” has lately suffered a similar fate, with Susan Boyle famously turning the song into an inspirational anthem to take over the world. While I respect Boyle, it’s worth remembering when you watch this trailer that the song concludes in the past perfect (“I had a dream my life would be… Now life has killed the dream I dreamed”). Hathaway’s rendition might not be note-perfect, but in the context of the silver screen it would be hard for any belted show-stopper to match the power of the pain on her face around 1:05.

Of course, the real lead in the film is Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean—and Jackman seems like exactly the rare performer able to marry the grace of old-fashioned theatrical chops with the grit required to sell those harsh close-ups. The movie’s other stars include Russell Crowe as the dogged Inspector Javert, Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne as Cosette and Marius, and, in a promising bit of casting, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the Thénardiers. Between that cast, this story, and these songs, Les Misérables seems likely to overcome any barricades thrown up by Tom Hooper’s careful framing.

Grade: B-

Previously from the Trailer Critic

The Great Gatsby
James Bond in Skyfall
Bill Murray as FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson
Gangster Squad
Ben Affleck’s Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ferrell vs. Galifianakis in The Campaign
The Dark Knight Rises
Judd Apatow’s This Is 40