Les Misérables


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Les Miserables 1998
"If it wasn't for Neeson, this would have yawned itself into unconsciousness."

It is impossible not to think of Les Miz and expect a chorus of children to burst into song. They don't. This is a faithful-ish adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic, with American actresses, an Australian baddie and Liam Neeson, being brawny and bountiful. Why, then, is it such a drag?

Bille August directs for the multiplex - cliche characterisation, easy-to-identify situations, nothing too complicated or historically demanding. Neeson refuses to lie back and think of Ireland. He gives a performance of genuine feeling, which only emphasises the weakness of the others. Uma Thurman, trapped in the role of single-mum-at-end-of-tether, can only cry and cough, which she does, it must be said, beautifully.

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The story of Valjean, the thief, who repents, becomes rich and dedicates his life to the welfare of others, while being hounded by Javert, a vengeful, petty-minded policeman, is action-packed. Or should be. August manages to dilute the tension by slowing things down and encourages Geoffrey Rush to play Javert as a basset hound embalmed in aspic. Valjean saves Fantine (Thurman) from Javert's sadistic clutches and cares for her during a terminal illness (TB). He promises to look after her daughter, Cosette, who is fostered with cruel country folk. Together, they flee to Paris, with Javert in dismal pursuit. Cosette grows up into Claire Danes and falls in love with the least convincing political agitator imaginable. His name is Marius and he looks like the lead guitarist of a Seventies support band. The actor, who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty, loiters palely. Admittedly, he has no help from the script or the director.

If it wasn't for Neeson, this would have yawned itself into unconsciousness. August romanticises Valjean, giving him such qualities of compassion, you keep looking for a halo. It's not there, because Neeson has unplugged it. He wants to make this saintly criminal a living human being and so avoids courage-under-fire Hollywood style. He has the ability to convey emotion and fear without painting rainbows. Since Schindler's List, he has grown into himself. Valjean is lucky to have him.

Reviewed on: 10 Apr 2007
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Faithful adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic.
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Director: Bille August

Writer: Victor Hugo, Rafael Yglesias

Starring: Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes, Hans Matheson, Reine Brynolfsson, Peter Vaughan, Christopher Adamson, Tim Barlow, Timothy Bateson, Veronika Bendová

Year: 1998

Runtime: 134 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Germany, US


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Les Misérables