With all the attention currently being given to the big screen adaptation of the Broadway musical "Les Misérables" the original 1998 narrative film directed by Bille August, is worth revisiting. Based on the historical novel by Victor Hugo, this well-acted and endurably crafted feature elaborates on the story of Jean Valjean (played by Liam Neeson) a hardened criminal who turns his life around, and becomes the maddening obsession of one French Inspector Javert (Geoffrey Rush).
At the core, "Les Misérables" is a story of redemption. Valjean finds a new lease on life after one single act of kindness by a man of the cloth, who requests that Valjean turn his life over to God. After having spared him another indignity Valjean does as the father requests and pays forward the act in kind, only to fall under the thumb of the villain Javert, who cannot accept a man of ill-repute can reform.
After Valjean seeks to vindicate the life of the doomed Fantine (Uma Thurman) by rescuing her daughter Cosette from poverty, he escapes Javert by fleeing to When the girl grows into a spirited young woman (and into Claire Danes), he is drawn into the June Rebellion of students against the entrenched monarchy.
The eventual uprising (one of many that roiled France in the 19th century), the human drama of "Les Misérables" quickly turns into a love story with a major rebellion underlying it. Beautifully shot and crafted as a period costume piece, the characterizations, unfortunately, are very thin -- lacking due to the thinly evolved script, but rescued by the capable actors embodying the roles.
Thanks largely to the cast, Hugo's narrative is sustained, especially within the scope of the visually well crafted period the film realizes. It does well in its ability to transport the audience.
The film does not disappoint in its feel for the majesty of a bygone Hollywood style of filmmaking and revels in recreating the period and scope of one of history's greatest revolutionary periods.
"Les Misérables" a film by Bille August
re-issued and available on Blu-ray for $19.99