Les Misérables [Blu-Ray] Bille August

Les Misérables [Blu-Ray]Bille August
Although competent and occasionally effective, Bergman protégé Bille August's straight (read: non-musical) adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables is a mostly safe and forgettable take on the familiar, handsomely framing the mostly ubiquitous story of Jean Valjean with the expected gravitas but little deviation or risk. The themes of forgiveness, redemption and the capacity to change are set up early, with the recently paroled Valjean (Liam Neeson) challenging the good will and Christian ideology of Bishop Myriel by stealing his silverware after being given food and shelter when no one else would take him in. Extended kindness even in the face of overt deception and hostility, Valjean is granted a fresh take on life, building up a new identity as Monsieur Madeleine, a successful factory owner and eventual mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Of course, his pointed transformation is challenged by police inspector Javert (Geoffrey Rush), who recognizes him from his prison days and threatens to bring his past to light, representing the rigid belief that change and redemption are impossibilities. This psychological and metaphysical argument is then applied to the various moral struggles that Valjean is presented with, leading to him admitting his true identity and promising to care for Cosette (Claire Danes), the daughter of a deceased prostitute (Uma Thurman) that he once wronged. For the first hour, as these themes and characters are set up, August's adaptation is most effective, occasionally stepping back to allow reactions and quiet character moments to speak for themselves, mostly through Neeson's subdued presentation of his internal moral struggles. But as the story progresses and the multiple secondary storylines impose and compound — something particularly evident with the contextually superfluous addition of a political love story between Cosette and a young revolutionary — August's sombre, unembellished tone succumbs to mere plot machinations, feeling uninspired by much of the second and third acts. Regardless, it's nice to see an adaptation of the Hugo novel that captures the thematic material without the addition of protracted musical numbers. And since most of the acting is quite strong and the artistic package very rich, this is one of the better ways to examine the internal battle of ideals versus application presented in Hugo's novel without actually reading it. The Blu-Ray includes only a "First Look," which is basically an extended trailer that showed on cable networks back in the late '90s. (Sony)