Movie Review: Les Miserables

© 1998 Dan Heller

Quick Review: Miserable

Synopsis: Les miserables is Victor Hugo's epic tale of love, honor and obsession. Jean Valjean's theft of a loaf of bread condemns him to an unjust prison sentence and a life on the run. He later falls in love with the doomed Fantine. At her untimely death, Valjean raises her daughter Cosette, all the while hunted by the policeman Javert. An older Cosette falls passionately in love with Marius, a charismatic young revolutionary. Jean Valjean's quest for redemption reaches its climax when he chooses to sacrifice his freedom in order to save Cosette's love. Only then is he truly free from Javert's merciless pursuit.

Review: Normally, I don't like reviewing movies that are so bad, they almost put me to sleep. But for Les Miserables, I felt obligated because this movie destroys such a classic tale: one depicts the best and worst of human nature, the extremities of good and evil, and the lengths people will go when driven by love, the need to survive, or the righteousness of our faith (all three of which may not have any common ground).

The synopsis above tells all that needs to be told about the plot and even the characters for that matter. The actors, all fabulous in their own rights for previous works, Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes and Hans Matheson, show how poor directing and a bad script can keep the best of them from performing well. The dialog was trite, the emotions never believable, the actions were implausible, and the decisions the characters chose to make made no sense. Above all, the motivations that "drove" these people were entirely lost. At no time did I feel any sense of love, loss, fear, hatred, or anything whatsoever.

And by the way, can someone tell me why America movies that depict foreigners whose native tongue isn't English always have actors speak with a British accent? You can always tell the high-budget movies by those that try to depict the lower-class people as those that speak with an Irish accent, as if for some reason we'll be better able to differentiate these people from the well-bred class from this foreign land.

The only redeeming quality of the movie was the visuals it portrayed of the era and the desperation of the people. Anyone familiar with the story might enhance the nostalgia of the novel by assigning visuals to the characters and locations, but if you're looking for that, the play (which is still playing in New York) is a much better bet.

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