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IN SHORT: Remarkably unmoving.
Based on the classic novel, the hardbound edition of which served many of us well as doorstops in our college dorm. This version of Les Misérables is not a filmed adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Les Mis, indeed that play and this movie conflict on at least one major plot point. But I'm not going to tell you which one.
With so much story to sift, screenplay adapter Rafael Yglesias had to choose very carefully how to lay out this decades long battle between the obsessive Police Inspector Chavert (Geoffrey Rush) and the bread thief Jean Valjean (Liam Neeson). Twenty-five drafts later we are left with four really good performances wrapped around a story from which all the raging emotions have been drained.
What's missing is the passion of the pursuit of Valjean by Chavert. Geoffrey Rush's eyes burn with a fire-like intensity, but nowhere in Yglesias's adaptation do we come to understand why. This will come to hobble the sucker as you hit the final scene which, if you don't see it coming, will leave you befuddled and wondering what the devil just happened?
Some movies are made to leave you with something to talk about while you walk out of the theater. The better ones, of which this is not, are crystal clear in their reasoning as they drive to provoke a reaction. The ending of Les Misérables is muddled. The explanation is written down, but never revealed to the audience.
Those are the negatives. The positives all lie with director Bille August's inspired cast choices. You can see the conflict between Valjean (Neeson) and Chavert (Rush) in their faces, but the reason for Chavert's obsessiveness is blown away in one line of dialog. Sneeze and you'll miss it. It doesn't take much to figure out that the social mores of the times doom Uma Thurman's Fantine, but Claire Danes' Cossette is so horribly underwritten that listening to the woman trying to make something out of her dialog is painful.
Looks great, though.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Les Misérables, he would have paid . . .
As you build to the Paris riots that mark the climax of Les Misérables, the cameras pull back to show the crowds. Cranky's eyes saw lots of grass and not enough people. It's a visual error that would distract from the story had there been any weight to it. I've a great feeling that bits and pieces of the book were chosen as necessary and then everything else was filled in to get from point A to B. I've seen it before. It hasn't worked then, either.
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