Movie Review – Les Miserables (1998)

Posted: June 9, 2013 in Movie Reviews
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Bille Augusts’ Les Miserables is a sincere attempt to make a motion picture out of the much acclaimed Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. Throughout the film it makes us think that reading this as story would have been greater experience. I can’t call this a failure of the movie instead would appreciate the genuineness of the book.


The film takes place in three parts. In the first Jean Valijean (Liam Neeson) goes to a priest’s house to see if he could steal food. Instead he is royally welcomed and given a fine dinner. That doesn’t stop him from stealing all those silverwares. It always runs at the back of his mind. He gives the silver spoon a tough look when he has dinner. Priests’ kind gesture doesn’t stop him from stealing the silver wares which he had long before decided to steal. He goes on with his act and beats up the priest against what we think. There are certain moments of suspense in the movie and except for the climax every other scene keeps us guessing. The next day when Valijean is brought back by the police to the priests place the priest hands him the candle holder too to Valijean and this makes him a changed man.

After 10 years Valijean is a different person. A wealthy industrialist who has high respect in his place. He is loved equally by everyone out there. That’s when Police Officer Javer (Geoffrey Rush) enters the town. The introduction where he asks the police officer who is having lunch to read his transfer order gives us a glimpse of character. The other officer asks him to have lunch but he compels him to read the order first. Thus showing the humane personality of one and bleak coldness of the other.

He meets Valijean in his house and out of the two Valijean is the first one to recognize the policeman. Javer after some time gets to know who Valijean is when he re thinks the past. Thus the cat and mouse game starts. Javert tries to corner Valijean but his efforts go in vain. After much drama he gets to know that Valijean indeed is the culprit he is searching for. Right when he tries to get him he exits forcefully as Fantine (Uma Thruman) in her death bed makes a wish to take care of her daughter. He escapes to the place where Fantine’s daughter is harassed and quickly escapes with her.

After 10 years on request by his daughter he takes her out of from a Christian school and brings her to the outer world. There are a lot of scenes where the characters look out from a small opening. Cosette (Claire Danes) does this more often than any as she is the one who longs to be there in the outer world. Like the gate which makes the shield her dad Valijean protects her in a way he does.

Throughout his life Valijean is marred by guilt. If it’s the guilt of stealing silver from a man who gave him food in the first part, it’s firing Fantine from the job in the second part of the story and having her daughter house arrested in the third part. For some reason he’s not a happy man. Inspector Javer on the other hand stays true to his character. He has his set of rules and lives by it throughout. Till the end of his life.

Liam Neeson is more appreciated for this movie than Geoffrey Rush for some strange reason. Geoffrey Rush steals the show with his stone like face. We couldn’t guess as to what he thinks. He’s always on the lookout for someone. A character who is a workaholic. He is so obsessed with work that whenever we see him he’s busy trying to unravel some mystery.  Once he meets Valijean much later in his life after letting him escape through his hands he gets so obsessed with catching him that he forgets the task that he is assigned to at that time.

He gets hold of him at last but by the time he could lay his hands on Valijean. Javert is morally lost to him. Like how a little sympathy changed the way Valijean looked at his life. Valijeans sympathy of leaving Javert alive from his death grip makes him lose that emotional war they had between them. He gets defeated. That defeat makes him take his own life when he had a chance to kill Valijean with his own hands. In a way he thinks this as a more powerful revenge.

Period flicks are mostly dependent on the mood they set in. With decent background music and a definitive cast it sets the mood right but after that it’s quite bleak. Other than a cat and mouse game there is nothing much to make us keep glued to the seat. Liam Neeson was so unsure as to what he was doing. Geoffrey Rush is the more confident man. He looks like a hero throughout the movie and sparks the harmony whenever he is on screen. If the character analysis were much deepened may be this movie could have worked at least half as well as the book, who knows?


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