Review: LES MISERABLES (1998) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Review: LES MISERABLES (1998)


RATING: 2.5/5

A very straightforward re-telling of Victor Hugo's celebrated 1,488 pages-classic novel, this all star-studded, big screen Hollywood adaptation doesn't do much justice to the purists who enjoy the original Les Miserables because the filmmakers opted to streamline everything to a bare minimum.

In this 1998 version of LES MISERABLES, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias pares down the novel's massive subplots to concentrate instead on the iconic story of a convict named Jean Valjean (Liam Neeson), who is condemned to 20 years of hard labor in a quarry for a minor crime of stealing and persecuted by the sadistic inspector Javert (Geoffrey Rush). The movie begins with Valjean being paroled after suffering 19 years of imprisonment. On his long way to report for his parole in Dijon, he stops by at a bishop's (Peter Vaughan) house and identify himself while claiming he's very hungry. Instead of kicking him away, the kind-hearted bishop treated Valjean like a guest and feeds him with enough food and even give him a good night's sleep in a comfy bed.

However, Valjean wakes up in the middle of the night and decides to steal silverware. He stuffed them as many as he can into his bag but eventually get caught in the act by the bishop. Valjean knocks him down and flees, but gradually gets captured the next morning where he is brought back to the bishop's. Surprisingly the bishop doesn't press charges against Valjean, claiming that the silverware was a gift and thus proving Valjean's innocence by giving him two silver candlesticks. Valjean is set free, and all the bishop wanted from him is to change into a new man and treat others with equal kindness.

Nine years later, Valjean has now becomes a wealthy and highly respectable man. He even becomes a mayor of the village of Vigau, where he also maintains a successful factory. Erasing his murky criminal past and starts a completely new life, everybody now knows him as Mayor Lemerre. Except, until the local police brought in Inspector Javert. At the moment Javert meets Lemerre face to face, he feels suspicious of Lemerre's identity and eventually recognizes him as the wanted former convict. Unfortunately Javert has no concrete evidence to prove him so when he carries his accusations further to Paris.

In the meantime, Lemerre develops an unlikely relationship with a disgraced factory worker named Fantine (Uma Thurman), who lost her job because of her illegitimate daughter, Cosette. Starving and desperate, Fantine has no choice but to turn herself into prostitution where she is later arrested and tortured by Javert. She becomes ill ever since then. Lemerre rescues her and accuses Javert for mishandling the way of the justice. He takes care of her, but eventually she dies when Javert comes to arrest him after discovering the truth that Lemerre is Jean Valjean. Valjean knocks him down and manages to escape, in which he flees to look for Cosette and promises Fantine that he'll raise her like his own child.

Ten years later, Valjean sets another new life with the now-adult Cosette (Claire Danes), in which they are also caught in the midst of the July 1832 Revolution. During this moment, Cosette falls in love with a rebel student, Marius (Hans Matheson). To make things worse, Javert emerges again and desperately wanted to arrest Valjean at all cost. Both Javert and Valjean finally square off against each other on the banks of the Seine.


Director Bille August's visual re-creation of Victor Hugo's novel is generally acceptable. But as mentioned earlier, this movie will divide most of the purists. The lack of emotional resonance and the rather straightforward narrative are among the primary factors that crippled the movie's shortcoming story elements. Despite clocking a little over two-hour long, it looks pretty obvious that an adaptation as mammoth as LES MISERABLES screams an otherwise proper approach for a miniseries instead.

Still, the movie remains worthwhile. Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush establishes necessary gravitas injected to their dynamic characters as they become sworn enemies in pursuit against each other. The rest of the supporting casts, including Uma Thurman and Claire Danes, are equally credible in their respective roles as well.


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