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Review: Les Miserables (2000)

The presence of Gerard Depardieu and John Malkovich can make anything 10 times better

The Les Miserables version I am choosing to talk about here is actually a made-for-TV project, but I felt it was solid enough that it might as well have been a 3-hour film.  It stars Gerard Depardieu as the main protagonist Jean Valjean and John Malkovich as his nemesis, Inspector Javert.  Ever since seeing Depardieu in the version of The Count of Monte Cristo he did, I’ve been sold on his superior talent to portray literary characters and, more importantly, to choose projects that aren’t going to be complete crap.

Both lead actors truly shine in their performances.  Depardieu embodies Valjean excellently, especially considering his physical bulk that gives a nice visual connection to the character (something oft overlooked in casting).  Malkovich, in contrast, is a cold, cruel and cunning Javert.  By the end of this movie, you may pity Javert but you definitely will not like him.  Another actor of note is Christian Clavier, who plays a particularly nefarious Thenardier.

The interplay between characters is, as a literary adaptation, one of the most important elements of the movie.  Each person plays their part well and creates dynamics that leave the viewer entranced.  Even knowing the story of Les Miserables, I still found myself hanging on every interaction and tense at what was going to happen next.  It is a sign of greatness that the actors can illicit such a response.

The movie follows the book much closer than past attempts have.  The pacing is excellent and, despite being made-for-TV, the sets, make-up and (limited) special effects are done masterfully.  Add to that an ensemble cast of talented actors and you have a great presentation overall.

Yes, I may be praising this a bit too much, but I was duly impressed.  If you’re a fan of the book or the other film adaptations of it, treat yourself to a viewing of the 2000 version.  Chances are you’ll not be disappointed.