Saturday, May 4, 2013

Closer To The Text, Les Miserables Is Dramatic, Poignant, Long And Listless.

The Good: Good story, Interesting characters, Moments of performance
The Bad: Depardieu does not land it, Long and feels long
The Basics: The 2000 version of Les Miserables is a stark interpretation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel that might have been a classic had the lead performer been more compellingly cast.

My wife is a huge fan of Les Miserables. As a result, I have seen a number of different versions of the book-made-film. The truth is, most of the versions of Les Miserables that my wife has shared with me are interpretations of the musical based upon the classic Victor Hugo novel. Recently, we took in the non-musical version of the film, the 2000 Les Miserables with John Malkovich and Gerard Depardieu. This dramatic interpretation of Les Miserables is very true to the book (at least, so says my wife, who has read the book) and it is good, but not all it should have been.

This version of Les Miserables is notable for its powerhouse casting. John Malkovich as Javert is brilliant casting. I thought that Gerard Depardieu had the dramatic chops to captivate viewers as the protagonist for the film, Jean Valjean, but I was surprised when he did not grab me. In fact, one of the two biggest issues with this version of Les Miserables is that Depardieu never has the magnetism or charisma to make the viewer actually care what happens to the character. Given that the film is very long and focuses on Jean Valjean, it is a fatal flaw of this production that Depardieu does not grab the viewer and compel the viewer to care.

Jean Valjean is a Frenchman, starving and haggard, when he steals a loaf of bread. He is incarcerated for his crime and when he tries to run, he ends up having his sentence compounded. Despite a heroic act in rescuing people from a fire, Valjean is punished and dogged by Inspector Javert. When he is released from prison, he is given a passport that he must use to check in with every village and city he goes to, in perpetuity, letting everyone know he is a criminal. While paroled, he is taken in by a priest from whom he steals silver. When the priest does not press charges – in fact gives him more silver, despite the objections of the nuns – Valjean is able to flee and start a new life.

Rising to mayor with an assumed name, Valjean manages to lay low for years and he becomes a factory owner. There, one of his workers (Fantine) gets into a dispute that, in his indifference, leads her to being fired and forced to prostitute herself. Honorbound, Valjean rescues a man accused of being him, flees Javert, and takes custody of Fantine’s daughter Cosette, to raise as his own. In the years that follow, Javert pursues Valjean. As Cosette grows into a young woman who the French revolutionary Marius falls in love with, Valjean works to elude the obsessed Javert.

John Malkovich as Javert is brilliant casting and Malkovich rises to the occasion. He is focused, determined and he plays coldblooded exceptionally well. In fact, Malkovich has an almost robotic quality to his portrayal of the obsessive law enforcer that is well within his established range, yet he still manages to make the character seem surprisingly fresh and different from, for example, the villain he played in Dangerous Liaisons.

Depardieu, on the other hand, is bland. His performance is dull and he never presents Valjean with enough zest for life to make the viewer believe that he would fight and struggle as hard as he does to survive through everything he does. The film’s Marius (Enrico Lo Verso), Fantine (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Cosette (Virginie Ledoyen) are all competent, though none are superlative enough to be noteworthy for their performances.

This version of Les Miserables is very stark and, unfortunately, after the initial hour and a half, it begins to drag and it never recovers. In fact, Enrico Lo Verso is put in the unenviable position of his character coming into the film long after it has already become a chore to watch. While not entirely unenjoyable, this version of Les Miserables is long and feels it for most of the film. Even John Malkovich as Javert is too hard to sell for such a long-feeling movie.

For other versions of Les Miserables, please check out my reviews of:
Les Miserables (2012)
Great Performances: Les Miserables
The Original Cast Recording Soundtrack


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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