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(1998) (Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush) (PG-13)

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Drama: In 19th century France a former convict continually tries to elude a police officer whose lifelong pursuit of the man has turned into an obsession.
In 19th century France, Jean Valjean (LIAM NEESON) is released from prison after serving nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread. After a compassionate Bishop refuses to turn him back to the police for robbing him, Valjean changes his ways. Years later, he's become the respected mayor of the town of Vigau where he also runs the local factory. He's horrified then, to discover that Inspector Javert (GEOFFREY RUSH), a former guard at the prison where he served time, has arrived to be the head of Vigau's police force.

Although Javert doesn't immediately recognize the ex-con, he slows begins to suspect that it's him. After Valjean comes to the aid of Fantine (UMA THURMAN), a single mother who's turned to prostitution to be able to care for her young daughter, Cosette (MIMI NEWMAN), and after he confesses in court that he's the real Valjean to protect an innocent man, Javert comes after him. As he swore to Fantine on her deathbed that he'd care for Cosette, Valjean retrieves the girl and they safely make it to a convent in Paris, where they live behind its secluded walls for next eight years.

Once Cosette (CLAIRE DAINES) becomes older, however, she wants to see the real world and convinces her father to leave the convent. Soon she meets and falls in love with Marius (HANS MATHESON), a young revolutionary wishing to reestablish the Republic. As a revolution on the streets of Paris looms, Javert realizes that the man he's pursued for so many years is somewhere near and Valjean does what he can to avoid him while protecting Cosette.

Preteens probably won't, and it's questionable whether teens (who aren't fans of the musical or the original novel) will want to see this nonmusical, period piece, unless they're big fans of Claire Danes, Uma Thurman, or someone else in the cast.
For violence, and for some sexual content.
  • LIAM NEESON plays an ex-con who changes his thieving ways after an act of compassion, and goes on to live a well-respected life. The actions by Javert, however, force him to continually flee, and he later adopts young Cosette and raises her as best as he can.
  • GEOFFREY RUSH plays a police officer who is strict about rules and regulations and makes it his lifelong obsession to find and bring Valjean to justice.
  • UMA THURMAN plays a single mother who turns to prostitution to support her daughter after losing her factory job.
  • CLAIRE DANES plays the teenage Cosette who wants to see the real world and disobeys her father's rules by secretly sneaking out and seeing Marius.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    Written in 1862 by author Victor Hugo (who also penned "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame"), "Les Miserables" is a sweeping epic of more than a thousand pages, and in the years since it was first published it has been adapted many times for both the large and small screen. Yet it wasn't until the early 1980's when the story made it to the stage in the form of a musical (produced by Cameron Mackintosh in London, New York, and then everywhere) that the work became popularly well known. Featuring a stunning production design, great lyrics, a moving score, and the well-written story of a man having to endure another's lifelong pursuit of him, the musical -- if you have not seen it -- is an amazing spectacle.

    Unfortunately, we can't say the same of the latest nonmusical adaption of Hugo's work. While it's a decent piece of film making, purists of the novel will hate the liberal adaption, while fans of the musical will surely miss the awe-inspiring songs and the tremendous title theme. I realize that licensing the rights to adapt the novel obviously don't include the music from the play, but the movie suffers from the lack of it, especially if you've had the good fortune of seeing the theatrical production.

    While criticizing a movie for excluding the music from a separate play might not seem fair, there's a strong reason for bringing it up. Beyond the emotionally rousing score, the lyrics of most of the numbers contribute a great deal of essential plot information about the story concerning its past and present elements. Since Hugo's novel can't literally be adapted word for word and scene by scene (unless you want a movie a great deal longer than this film's nearly two and a half hour run time), this adaption suffers from a major case of incongruity. Sure, there's the underlying and continuous story of Javert pursuing Valjean, but each segment feels like an isolated chapter instead of part of a flowing plot.

    This isn't to say that the segments aren't good -- it's just that they don't perfectly connect. Beyond that, and again noting the absence of the theatrical score, many of the scenes are boring. It's not that they're poorly done, however. After all, there's a great cast and the acting is quite good, Anna Asp's production design is first rate, as are Gabriella Pescucci's costumes and Jorgen Persson's camera work and Basil Poledouris' score is competent (but not as good as that found in the musical).

    The problem is that very little of all of those accomplishments, or the direction by Bille August (an Oscar winner for "Pelle The Conqueror") or the screenplay adaption by Rafael Yglesias ("Fearless") are emotionally or viscerally rousing. Everyone goes through the paces and everything looks and feels right, but it's just never that exciting.

    Part of that relates to the characters as written and the interpretation of them by the actors inhabiting them. While Oscar nominated Liam Neeson ("Schindler's List") and Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush ("Shine") are great actors and are quite believable in their roles, they're not exactly the most exciting of performers. While I'm not saying that Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford should have played the parts of Javert and Valjean (although it's an interesting prospect since they already played cat and mouse in "The Fugitive"), the problem is that there's little or no spark from these performers or their characters.

    For a film that's essentially about a lifelong "chase," at least a little electricity and active tension is needed to make the story work, but unfortunately we're given the equivalent of a dull, forty watt bulb. Since there's little exciting conflict (in either the "action" scenes or the drama that bookends such moments), we never feel too worried about Valjean and thus aren't pulled into the story as effectively as we should be. Adding that to the incongruous "chapters," but recognizing that much of this is caused by trying to truncate a vast novel, director August never allows the film to build any momentum.

    As played by Liam Neeson, however, the character of Valjean is likeable and we certainly see that he's a caring and compassionate fellow. With the physical size to suggest his strength and those sad eyes and melancholy face, Neeson nearly makes up for our lack of active interest in his plight. Geoffrey Rush, who shot to international fame in his award winning role as the gifted pianist in "Shine," also delivers a fine, but nearly one note character.

    Potentially the ancestor of Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator" character or perhaps the Energizer bunny, Javert just keeps going and going with a grim, near malicious determination. Yet, he's not "evil" enough to bring out the boo's and hisses, nor does he have any redeeming qualities for one to be troubled about rooting for his success despite the harm it might bring to Valjean (like the Tommy Lee Jones character in "The Fugitive"). The rest of the performances are fine, with Uma Thurman ("Pulp Fiction"), looking properly grimy and sick, Claire Danes ("Romeo & Juliet") playing her standard, coy ingenue character, and Hans Matheson as the young patriot who steals her heart.

    If you're not familiar with the story or have never seen the musical, this production might impress you, as well it should. Featuring some decent performances and great technical work, the film is good. It's just not great, and lacking the power and emotional thrust that the musical so effectively presented, the film comes off as a flatter and much weaker version of Hugo's work. We give "Les Miserables" a 6 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. Several violent encounters occur, including people hitting others, some battle skirmishes where people are wounded and killed, and a brief firing squad execution, but most of that occurs in a non-graphic fashion. Profanity is extremely light (with a slang term for breasts at its worst) and there are also a few phrases used such as "bitch," "whore," and "slut." A few scenes include some material involving prostitution, but we don't ever see anything other than some cleavage. Beyond some bad attitudes here and there, most of the other categories don't contain any major objectionable material. Even so, you may want to take a quick look through the content should you or someone in your home wish to see this film.

  • Valjean, a Bishop and a woman have wine with dinner. Later, the Bishop tells the woman to offer several guards some wine (not seen).
  • Valjean drinks wine while waiting to pick up Cosette.
  • Many years later, Valjean and Cosette have wine with dinner.
  • Fantine has a little bit of a bloody lip (and what looks like bloody gums -- although it may be dirt or dental problems) after Javert slaps her to the ground.
  • Fantine has some blood on the side of her face (that was coughed up).
  • Javert's head, and the wall it was twice beaten against, are both a little bloody.
  • A wounded man has a somewhat bloody neck.
  • We see very brief and small squirts of blood as a firing squad executes several revolutionaries.
  • Valjean is an ex-con who went to prison for stealing bread while hungry, but once out, he tries to steal silverware from a kind Bishop (but then changes his ways after the Bishop forgives him).
  • Some may see Javert's lifelong pursuit of Valjean as having some of both.
  • Several men accost some prostitutes, including Fantine, and make fun of them as they do.
  • Some fellow convicts falsely identify another man as Valjean in hopes that their assistance will benefit themselves.
  • The people keeping Cosette (as a young child) for Fantine have both as they treat her poorly (making her work, verbally abusing her, etc...).
  • Against her father's orders, Cosette repeatedly sneaks out at night to meet Marius.
  • Some may see Marius and the other revolutionaries as having both.
  • Viewers may find some scenes listed under "Violence" as tense.
  • Valjean climbs a high wall with Cosette on his back and then jumps from it to a roof across an alley, nearly falls off, and some guards shoot at him.
  • Pistols/Rifles/Swords/Cannons: Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Whore," "Bastard," "Screw" (sexual), "Bitch," "Slut," and "Idiots."
  • Fantine spits in Valjean's face upon meeting him after he unknowingly fired her.
  • None.
  • There is a moderate amount of dramatically suspenseful music throughout the production.
  • None.
  • 1 slang term for breasts (the "t" word), and 1 use each of "My God," "For God's sakes" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • Although we don't see anything as it occurred in the past, Fantine had sex with some man that resulted in her getting pregnant (the people in the story make a big deal out of this).
  • A landlord tells Fantine, "Things aren't so bad, at least you've still got a bed" (implying she can use it for prostitution). Later, when he asks for more money from her while she's lying ill in bed, she throws back the covers (implying she'll have sex with him) and we see the upper part of her bare thigh. He covers her back up.
  • Some prostitutes on the street show some cleavage, as does Fantine as she joins the ladies of the night.
  • After Valjean has rescued Fantine from Javert's jail, she wakes up to find him undoing her dress (he's doing so to cool her off from her sweat inducing fever). She then implies that she'll have sex with him as her gratitude and says, "There will be no charge...you deserve it."
  • One of Marius' companions tells him, "After tomorrow, you can make love to her as a free man."
  • Javert puts a pinch of what we assume to be some sort of tobacco product of his hand and snorts it up each nostril.
  • A man smokes a cigar.
  • As a little girl, Cosette lives with an abusive family, her mother dies (she doesn't know this), and a stranger (Valjean) shows up and takes her with him. Later, as a teenager, Cosette wonders who her "adoptive" father really is, and gets into brief confrontations with him about that and sneaking out at night to meet Marius.
  • How honesty, hard work and compassion can turn around someone's life.
  • What was wrong with Fantine and why she died (she had pneumonia or some similar ailment).
  • Women who resort to prostitution to make money.
  • The historical setting of the story.
  • In a dream/flashback, a guard kicks Valjean in the gut and tries to kick him again. Valjean then grabs the guard's leg and tries to bite him until other guards show up and hit him with their rifle butts.
  • Caught in the act of stealing some silverware, Valjean strikes a Bishop and knocks him out.
  • Fantine, frustrated at some men who accosted her and several other prostitutes, hits one of the men on the back. Javert then approaches and smacks Fantine, knocking her to the ground.
  • Javert pushes Valjean to the floor and kicks him. Moments later, Valjean then takes Javert and slams his head twice against a wall, knocking him unconscious.
  • An out of control, horse drawn carriage crashes and overturns, throwing its occupants to the ground.
  • Some guards shoot at Valjean and Cosette on a roof top.
  • Valjean backhands Cosette for disobeying her.
  • Marius, other revolutionaries and the government guards get into a pushing match at a funeral. More soldiers then show up and ride through the crowd, swinging their swords and hitting several people (including a woman who is sliced and falls to the ground, but isn't bloody).
  • Javert grabs Cosette on the street and holds his pistol on her. Marius then kicks Javert who falls to the street and Cosette then grabs and aims the pistol at him.
  • Soldiers and revolutionaries fire at each other with pistols and rifles and parties on both sides are hit and fall dead (or wounded) to the street. A young boy is then shot as he tries to remove items from dead bodies on the street.
  • Soldiers fire cannons into the revolutionaries' blockades, blowing them up and sending bodies flying.
  • A firing squad executes several revolutionaries.
  • Valjean holds a pistol on Javert, and later the opposite occurs twice.
  • A man purposefully falls backwards into a river, drowning himself.

  • Reviewed April 27, 1998

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