We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
"Les Miserables'' is like a perfectly respectable Classics Illustrated version of the Victor Hugo novel. It contains the moments of high drama, clearly outlines all the motivations, is easy to follow and lacks only passion. A story filled with outrage and idealism becomes somehow merely picturesque.
Liam Neeson stars as Jean Valjean, and the movie makes its style clear in an early scene, where he stands, homeless and hungry, at the door of a bishop, and says, "I am a convict. My name is Jean Valjean. I spent 19 years at hard labor. On my passport I am identified as a thief.'' And so on. "I know who you are," replies the bishop, but not before the audience has been spoon-fed its briefing.
Valjean is taken in, fed and sheltered, and tries to steal the bishop's silver. In one of the most famous episodes from Hugo's novel, the bishop tells the police he gave the tramp the silver, and later tells Valjean: "I've ransomed you from fear and hatred and now I give you back to God." There was a similar scene in Claude Lelouch's 1995 "Les Miserables," which intercut passages from the novel with a story set during World War II; it was touching, but this version feels more like a morality play.
Valjean sells the silver, gets a job in a provincial factory and uses the nest egg to buy the factory. As we rejoin him some years later, he is the local mayor, respectable and beloved, trying to teach himself to read and write. Then fate re-enters his life in the person of Inspector Javert (Geoffrey Rush), a police official who recognizes him from his years at hard labor and wants to expose him: In this world, if you once do something wrong, you are banished forever from the sight of those lucky enough not to have been caught.