Les Miserables

By Cunneen, Joseph | National Catholic Reporter, May 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

Les Miserables


Cunneen, Joseph, National Catholic Reporter


Compared to "He Got Game," Les Miserables (Columbia) will seem old-fashioned, yet in many ways this turns out to be an advantage. Director Billie August sticks to the central story line at all times; we are never allowed to forget the constant fanatical pursuit of Jean Valbean (Liam Neeson) by Inspector Javert (Geoffrey Rush).

The key opening scene is with a local bishop who answers Valjean's plea for food by inviting him to dinner. When the ex-convict leaves the next morning, however, he takes some of the bishop's silverware. Brought back by the police, Valjean is startled when the bishop covers up his crime, telling him he had forgotten to take the candlesticks that had been given him. Valjean asks the bishop the reason for such generosity; the latter explains it as a plea to Valjean to "give back his soul to God." In Hugo's morality tale, the sinner's rehabilitation is more complete than in Lee's basketball story, though the latter has equally unrealistic aspects.

"Les Miserables" jumps 10 years, during which the reformed Valiean has become a prosperous factory owner and the mayor of a provincial town. His security is threatened by the suspicions of the new police inspector, Javert, a man obsessed by his sense of order. The scenes between Neeson and Rush are compelling psychological duels that become a struggle between nobility and vindictiveness. The two men openly clash over Javert's inhuman treatment of Fantine (Uma Thurman), a graceful woman driven to prostitution to support her young daughter Cosette. …

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