Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Written Review: Les Miserables

This less than perfect, but still enjoyable, adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic novel has its good and bad qualities. From Liam Neeson and Geoffry Rush's excellent portrayal of Jean Valjean and Javert to the excellent set design and camera work, this film is very solid.
Now, as some may have noted, I did not rave about this film as some of my fellow students have. You may ask "Why is this?" Well, it's quite simple. I was raised on the novel Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I remember reading the, extremely thick book, for the first time when I was about 12 or 13. It is, literally, my favorite piece of fiction ever written. I, being an ex-theater major, also adore the musical and find that it's probably the best adaptation of this classic novel all-around. I have also seen, quite literally, half a dozen adaptations of this book. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages but none of them seem to quite capture the spirit of Hugo's novel. There's always something missing and I am going to tell you right now what is missing from the Neeson/Rush adaptation:
Thénardier. This character is consistently shafted in all adaptations of this book. The character is either downsized to where it can barely be called a character or is taken out completely. This is a huge mistake on the parts of the those who have written the various film adaptations because Thénardier serves a vital role in the narrative (even aside from his role as a plot driver). Where as Jean Valjean serves his purpose to show us how mercy can change a once cruel man into a good man, and Javert is there as an example of following the law to the letter, neither of these characters are ever "evil". Valjean at the beginning of the story is simply angry and misguided and Javert, who is normally painted as the "bad guy", is simply doing his job. Thénardier on the other hand is a true blue portrait of evil. His actions show us another great lesson on life. When this character is removed we lose something in the lessons we can learn from it. This is why I think the musical was so successful.
All-in-all I think the film could have benefited immensely from an extra hour or hour and a half of run time. Too many of the plots felt rushed or passed over completely, especially that of Thénardier. However, the film does a lot right, I just feel that it still isn't a great representation of the beautiful novel by Victor Hugo.

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