les miserables

I’ve waited a few days to comment on this film, because as an INTJ, I like to be sure of my opinions before I share them — and frankly, walking out of this movie, I felt conflicted. I’ve since had the “thinking time” to solidify and sort out both my emotions and my views.

Les Miserables is arguably one of the most epic, powerful stories ever written. At its heart, it is about redemption, transformation, and a changed life. It’s about mercy vs. legalism — the letter vs. the spirit of the law. And in its many incarnations, it always comes down to its grounding in faith. Victor Hugo may have abandoned his faith eventually, but it is certainly present in his novels!

This version is more accurate to the book than any before it (and likely any after it) — it is a grand, sprawling story with all the many characters and nuances of the novel — which is both its strength and its weakness where I’m concerned. To put it bluntly, so much is happening, so many lives unfolding, that Valjean is reduced to one among many and his redemption tends to get lost in the shuffle. And therein lies my quandary — what I love most about the story is its message, but here, rushing from song to song, it felt in some respects absent, or at least not the main focus. It troubled me at first — indeed, it took a great deal of thought and a second viewing for me to decide that’s “okay.” There is more than one adaptation, after all — the earlier film can focus more openly on the themes of redemption, and this can be the grand ensemble.

My first time through I was distracted by the camera techniques — I still hate them, but they no longer keep me from the heart of the film and from falling in love with its music and its characters. I have a creeping suspicion that in time, I’ll love the movie in spite of its faults. I am familiar with the musical — I grew up on the music, and although it’s not my favorite Broadway production, I do love its sense of majesty and poetry in the lyrics, as well as how brutally raw some of the songs can be. And here, they are indeed raw — passionate, heartfelt, tearful, and several of them absolutely break my heart. I know everyone is pooh-poohing Russell Crowe, but I honestly thought his approach to “Stars” was … well, wonderful.

les miesrablesMy favorite aspect of this story is its approach to Javert — to me at least, he was likable… understandable… pitiable… and for the first time, I felt an immense sense of remorse at his fate. Usually, I’m relieved to see him go — but here, I wanted to pull him off the ledge, maybe because I see a lot of myself in him. My very nature is judgment over mercy. I believe in sets of “rules” and have little compassion for those who step outside them. And if it weren’t for me having had a salvation experience, I would still be like Javert.

Although this story moves so fast it’s hard to get any character development, I do have to say that Amanda and Eddie really sold me on Cosette and Marius being in love. It’s incredible that they could convince a cynical, jaded INTJ like me that it is (… no, it isn’t) possible to fall in love so quickly. And… Anne Hathaway has grown up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more raw, beautiful performance. Just hand her that Oscar — she deserves it.

My opinion of this film is that it’s good, but not great. I’m sorry, but the filming technique for me undermined it more than I would have liked. The extreme close-ups and the shaky camera work will never grow on me, but I can’t deny that it’s still an incredible story.

Regarding the much-touted sexual content — if you’re sensitive, wait and rent the DVD, then fast-forward through “Master of the House.” You won’t miss anything of the plot, but you’ll avoid almost all the offensive content. “Lovely Ladies” isn’t squeaky clean either, but it’s a lot less bawdy than I anticipated.