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1 item from 1998

Film review:'Les Miserables'

24 April 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Those expecting to hear Liam Neeson belt out a chorus of "One Day More" will likely be disappointed, but most others will find this no-singing, no-dancing version of "Les Miserables" to be a handsomely mounted, quite-faithfully adapted version of Victor Hugo's oft-told tale.

If anything, director Bille August ("Pelle the Conqueror", "Smilla's Sense of Snow") and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias ("Fearless") might have been a little too reverential. The painstakingly by-the-book approach can have a rigid, smothering effect on the already dense material.

While strong performances from Neeson as the eternally hunted Valjean and "Shine"'s Geoffrey Rush as his obsessed hunter, Javert, significantly offset the picture's frustratingly linear approach to storytelling, this "Les Miz" will be a hard sell to audiences overly familiar with the subject matter.

Not to be confused with the recent nonmusical, loosely adapted Claude Lelouch French version, the August edition manages to cover all the main points in slightly more than two hours -- which, given the heft of the source material, is a significant accomplishment.

August has always had a strong handle on humanity, not to mention an eye for great faces. Here, Neeson's vigorous aura of goodness is put to highly effective use as the nobly reformed but conscience-ridden Valjean. He's a great fit.

Rush's sad-dog countenance, meanwhile, makes him a natural for Javert, the police inspector whose impossibly dogged, myopic pursuit of Valjean makes one want to scream, "Get a hobby!"

The scenes in which the two face off lend the film a rich potency. As for the other performances, while Uma Thurman has the requisite waiflike eyes and delicate build to at least look the part of poverty-stricken Fantine, the makeup department goes a little overboard (as in unintentionally funny) in trying to make her appear increasingly pitiful.

Certainly the picture's look cannot be faulted. With Prague, Czech Republic, impressively doubling for early 19th century France, the production values are sumptuously evocative.

Still, one is left feeling that something is missing. While Basil Poledouris' gentle orchestrations occasionally seem to quote the Broadway musical version, this umpteenth rendition of "Les Miserables" needed a less slavish, more inspired treatment to truly sing.


Sony Pictures Releasing

Columbia Pictures

Mandalay Entertainment presents

A Sarah Radclyffe production

A James Gorman production

A film by Bille August

Director: Bille August

Screenwriter: Rafael Yglesias

Based on the novel "Les Miserables" by:

Victor Hugo

Producers: Sarah Radclyffe, James Gorman

Director of photography: Jorgen Persson

Production designer: Anna Asp

Editor: Janus Billeskov-Jansen

Costume designer: Gabriella Pescucci

Music: Basil Poledouris

Casting: Leonora Davis



Valjean: Liam Neeson

Javert: Geoffrey Rush

Fantine: Uma Thurman

Cosette: Claire Danes

Marius: Hans Matheson

Running time -- 129 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13


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