Until this week, Casablanca was my all-time favorite film. Les Miserables has now taken its place. I'm not a film critic - I go to a movie not to criticize, but to enjoy it for what it is: entertainment.
I go to see scenes and hear dialogue and songs I haven't seen or heard before; I go for the depth of raw emotion - whether testosterone-fueled righteous bravado from movies like Saving Private Ryan and Full Metal Jacket or for the heartbreaking, all-conquering love seen in that bane of all that have testicles, The Notebook.
Les Miserables has its faults, the foremost of which were Russell Crowe's voice and his character's suicide. But let's not forget the high points such as Hugh Jackman's mastery as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway's emotionally devastating (and Oscar-demanding) role as Fantine.
I admit I've never seen the play nor read the book by Victor Hugo, but to me, Les Miz is to film what Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is to books: the very best, the standard against which all others must be measured. Why? It's the story. Les Miz is at its base a meditation on love in most of its forms:
- The love between mother and child
- The love between step-parent and child
- Young love
- Unrequited love
- Love between those who survived combat together
- Love of country
- Love that one feels in an intense religious experience
But there's yet more, for Les Miz also explores the forever-joined concepts of duty and honor, which define the actions of Jean Valjean and Javert from a hopeless beginning borne of a perversity of justice to an end defined by a grand reversal of fates, justice and rewards for all as honor strictly demanded. And incredibly, against all odds, it all works!
I fancy myself a writer, but just the concept, the mere prospect of working all those emotional facets together into a story is daunting to say the least (and far beyond what skill I may claim to possess). And then, to work all of that into less than three hours of film? Why, the very thought of it is ludicrous!, but there it is.
When you sit there and watch the film (or, I assume, the play or read the book), remember that you are witnessing storytelling greatness, brilliance that stands at the very summit of the art. Not everyone will love the film, but to anyone who has ever tried to work wrenching depths of emotion and monumental heights of honor and duty into a story and then labored in utter frustration over what to cut away for the sake of hated-and-be-damned brevity, Les Miserables is the very best film there is.