Les Misérables (1998) – 4/5

Surprisingly good film despite its shoddy production values, mostly thanks to a well adapted story and some great performances, especially from Geoffrey Rush who I’ve come to realize after watching this is one of the finest, most underrated actors of his generation. And Uma Thurman’s pretty good in this too, and sexy for a poor, sickly prostitute. But a fine, fine adaptation, even if you’re familiar with the story and/or read the book.

The look of the film isn’t anything remarkable, though. It’s quite cheap looking at times, frankly, which is especially grievous given the visual possibilities the historical and geographical context of the story present. I had a feeling watching this that the director has a strong theater background; the emphasis throughout is definitely much more on the acting than the visuals, and that usually implies theater training, for obvious reasons. A lot of scenes are staged or otherwise unfold in a very theatrical manner, with characters giving it their all and being pretty damn convincing despite being in locations that look like little more than dressed up sound stages, which they most likely were.

That isn’t to say it isn’t good visually. It has its moments, and it’s certainly not shot in a pedestrian manner by any means, it just feels fake at times. The characters’ clothes are a little too clean, the props a little too fake. Things are just slightly off. It’s hard to say how exactly unless you watch it, but, again, I think it has to do with the director’s theatrical background, (assuming he has one), and his emphasis on performance over realism. Eh, whatever, it works, mostly.

Overall, I enjoyed this film. It’s tense and well made, excellently acted by just about everyone, and actually well written, with changes to the book actually adding to the story rather than taking away from it like many other adaptations tend to do. ::Ahem:: Girl with the Dragon Tattoo::Ahem::

This movie constantly teetered on the edge of being terrible, though. If the direction were just a bit weaker, or the performances not as powerful, it could have been a real disaster. On the other hand, had the direction been stronger visually, it could have really been something. A masterpiece maybe, or, at least, one of the finest adaptations of a novel ever made. As it stands, though, it’s just a good movie, which is all you can ask for, really. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Recommended.

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