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It is early 19th century France. Jean Valjean's (Liam Neeson) theft of a loaf of bread condemns him to a 19 year prison sentence. On his release, he eventually becomes the respected mayor of the poor town of Vigau, transforming it into a thriving community, caring for its people and workers, as the benevolent, generous owner of a factory. Fantine (Uma Thurman), is one of his employees, fired by the manageress when she discovers the unmarried Fantine has a child. When she is dying, Valjean promises to take care of her little daughter, Cosette. Still hunted for breaking his parole by the obsessed policeman Javert (Geoffrey Rush), Valjean makes a new life for himself and the now teenage Cosette (Clare Danes), who falls in love with Marius (Hans Matheson), a young Parisian revolutionary, anxious to launch the French Republic. But all the time, Javert is never far behind.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
What do we make of the heroically decent Valjean in these cynical times? Can we believe that a man who spent 19 years in the vile, debasing prison system of early 19th century France can be so generous of spirit, so able in business, so sensitive in nature? At first, I felt it ridiculous, but on reflection, I realise that of course Jean Valjean was always a decent man, and the crime that lost him his freedom was stealing bread - to feed his hunger as a kid. Still, I would have liked one more transition scene between the bedraggled tramp just out of jail and the respected and loved mayor a decade later.

That aside, Bille August's Les Miserables is a seriously humanistic work, but also engaging and entertaining, brimming with excellent acting. August is anxious to reveal the beating hearts, the complex natures and the eternal confines of one's make up as it crosses the socio-historic landscape of France on the eve of revolution. This is the fermenting context of the story; lives are at stake, society is breaking up, betrayal leads to death, class divisions limit democracy….

Neeson's effortless and credible character making is matched by Uma Thurman's best performance since Dangerous Liaisons, Rush is far more complex than a Hollywood baddie might be, and not at all the 'snarling hangdog martinet' Charles (below) suggests. From literature to the screen, Les Miserables retains its grip as a story of nobility - nobility as in human virtues, as distinct from royalty. That juxtaposition is its eternal irony.

Published February 5, 2004

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CAST: Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes, Hans Matheson, Reine Brynolfsson, Peter Vaughan, Mimi Newman

DIRECTOR: Bille August

SCRIPT: Rafael Yglesias (based on the novel by Victor Hugo)

RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 16: 9 enhanced (2.35:1); dolby digital

SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: February 11, 2004

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