Tag Archives: Les Miserables

Review: Les Misérables

Les Miserables

One day feels like an eternity in Les Misérables. And in this latest film from French filmmaker Ladj Ly, he uses this kind of deep-dive approach into a specific day in a specific place to create a larger, vital look at a part of French society that rarely gets depicted in popular culture.

The film is not an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, though it does share a setting and some general themes, which are further underscored by a couple of direct references to the more famous Les Misérables. However, it certainly doesn’t feel like a heavy-handed homage, with Ly taking a distinctive and hyper-modern perspective with his story. In this contemporary version of France’s Montfermeil district, the neighbourhood is riddled with gang dynamics, police corruption, and a rag-tag group of children largely left to fend for themselves in their sometimes-punishing environment.

Our entry point to this insular neighbourhood is Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), a police officer who’s just been transferred to the area, joining a pair of veterans of the district, Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djibril Zonga). And for his first time on duty, Stéphane is thrown into the job headfirst on a summer day that notably includes a World Cup victory, punishingly hot temperatures, and a lion cub who’s been taken from a travelling circus passing through.

As Chris and Gwada lead Stéphane through a day on the beat and introduce him to some of the neighbourhood’s key figures, it becomes clear that there is a delicate ecosystem at play. The police officers’ roles are sometimes as diplomat and mediator, and other times as unscrupulous (and active) participants in the shadier side of the social hierarchy. And then, when things on this particular day inevitably boil over and violence punctuates that balance, the inner framework all starts to crumble.

From the start, Stéphane quickly becomes aware of the unconventional (and certainly not above-board) tactics Chris and Gwada bring to their work, and his moral struggle with complicity becomes a major crux of the film. In that sense, it’s very akin to Training Day, and the power dynamics between Stéphane and Chris, in particular, in some ways clear the path for how the rest of the story will unfold.

One of Ly’s greatest strengths here as a storyteller is how clearly he depicts the complicated web of relationships in the film. As viewers, we meet every character we need to – from the main trio to the smallest bit player – introduced in a concise way that tells us about who they are and sets the stage for how they’ll come back into play later on.

This exceptionally efficient storytelling is one of the major contributions to the film’s propulsive pace. If you have a (false) perception that “foreign” films are often slow or meandering, you need to check this one out. Though not an action film in the typical sense of the genre, there is an hour-long or so stretch in the middle that’s as well-paced and compelling as any other 2019 film I saw.

Because I was so locked in for a big portion of the film, though, it made it feel jarring when the story later takes an unexpected jump in time. To say more would get into spoilers, but I was surprised by Ly’s choice to somewhat break the tension that he’d been building over the course of the one increasingly crazy day much of the film spends showing. For me, the film struggled to fully get back on its feet after that point, ending in a way that felt inevitable but less impactful than it could have.

Slightly wobbly ending aside, though, Ly creates a visceral and richly-woven world. The cinematography feels naturalistic – hard-hitting without ever feeling intrusive – and the cast of characters also feel extremely believable throughout. As a viewer, we spend by far the most time with the main trio of police officers, and seeing the world largely through their skewed perspective feels like an unexpected and unique way for Ly to tell a story that is at its core actually about the mistreatment and struggle of the underclass they’re supposedly protecting. And indeed, Ly takes many opportunities throughout to buck what could otherwise feel tired and expected. There is a nuance to much of what happens (and even in which characters enact which type of violence) that complicates things far more than this type of crime story often would.

Aiding the film’s complexity is its cast, which is extremely strong across the board. All three of the main actors are excellent, creating (with the script, co-written by Ly and Manenti) characters that feel refreshingly well-rounded. Zonga, in particular, brings an unspoken soulfulness and duality in his performance. He subtly leans into the subtext surrounding the fact that Gwada is the sole black officer in the group (who was himself raised in Montfermeil) and the film is all the more impactful for it.

Les Misérables tells its story through the lens of one highly specific, insular neighbourhood, yet it also feels grand in scope. And it balances those two modes of operation remarkably well. It’s making a point to touch on many timely themes, seemingly acting more broadly (if you want it to) as a critique of French society as a whole. Much like the story it borrows its name from, Ly’s tale presents fascinating, richly told characters through a well-constructed story. It also powerfully highlights internalized, structural problems that we as people – no matter how much time passes – can never quite seem to resolve.

FIRST Oscar Predictions: May 2012

The past couple of years, I’ve posted ultra-early Oscar predictions (usually in March). I guess I was slacking a bit this year, but here is my first round of predictions.

If you’d like to see how my early stabs in the dark panned out in previous years, you can check them out here.


Best Picture

Amour

Anna Karenina

Argo

The Dark Knight Rises

Django Unchained

The Hobbit

Les Miserables

Life of Pi

Lincoln

The Master

Other Possibilities: Moonrise Kingdom, The Great Gatsby, Inside Lllewyn Davis, Hyde Park on Hudson, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty, Killing Them Softly, The Silver Lining Playbook, Gravity, Trouble With the Curve, The Place Beyond the Pines, Brave, Gangster Squad, Lawless, Six Sessions, Rust and Bone, Prometheus, Seven Psychopaths

 

Best Director

Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master

Michael Haneke, Amour

Peter Jackson, The Hobbit

Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Stephen Spielberg, Lincoln

Other Possibilities: Tom Hooper (Les Miserables), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Joel and Ethan Coen (Inside Llewyn Davis), David O. Russell (The Silver Lining Playbook), Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom), Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly), Baz Luhrman (The Great Gatsby), Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Ben Affleck (Argo), Roger Michell (Hyde Park on Hudson), David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis), Ridley Scott (Prometheus)

 

Best Actor

Clint Eastwood, Trouble with the Curve

This movie sounds like a crowd-pleasing heartstring-tugger, and also a great acting showcase.

John Hawkes, Six Sessions

Hawkes received massive buzz at Sundance for Six Sessions (then known as The Surrogate). He’s an actor whose had a huge breakthrough recently and has been making very smart role choices. I strongly think he will get his second nomination this year.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master

I’m not sure how the Lead/Supporting split will go with Hoffman and Phoenix (I’ve seen it predicted both ways), but I imagine they’ll both be nominated. It’s about time for another PSH nomination, right?

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

If there’s one nomination I am almost positive will happen this year, this is it. Unless this turns out to be J. Edgar or something, it’ll happen. Not sure if DDL will get a third Oscar so quickly, but he’ll almost certainly be nominated.

Bill Murray, Hyde Park on Hudson

I personally don’t think this movie will have the awards season sweep that a lot of people seem to be predicting (it sounds more Iron Lady than King’s Speech, to me), but it seems pretty likely that Bill Murray will be nominated for Best Actor. He might even win his first one.

Other Possibilities: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Great Gatsby), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines), Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly), Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad),

 

Best Actress

Amy Adams, Trouble With the Curve

Adams has three Supporting Actress nominations under her belt already, and this father/daughter drama could get her a Lead Actress nom. The Academy clearly loves her, so between this and The Master (which I am currently predicting her for, as well), it seems fairly likely she’ll get nominated again this year.

Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone

Cotillard made big waves at Cannes this year for her apparently raw performance in this Jacques Audiard drama. It is a French-language performance, though, which could be a tough sell to the Academy.

Helen Hunt, Six Sessions

Since winning her Oscar for As Good as It Gets, Helen Hunt’s career hasn’t exactly been stellar. However, this Sundance hit could be the one to turn it around for her. John Hawkes might overshadow her, since it is his character’s story, but who knows?

Keira Knightley, Anna Karenina

On paper, this sounds like a good bet. It’s the adaptation of a beloved classic novel directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley. That formula worked very well for Knightley with Pride & Prejudice. We’ll have to wait and see if this one works quite as well, though.

Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts

Olsen established herself as a truly talented young actress with Martha Marcy May Marlene last year. And while Liberal Arts looks considerably lighter, she received raves at Sundance, with some critics calling it a star-making turn. Not sure if this is a lead or supporting performance, though.

Other Possibilities: Kristen Wiig (Imogene), Laura Linney (Hyde Park on Hudson), Viola Davis (Won’t Back Down), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Smashed), Mia Wasikowska (Stoker), Maggie Smith (Qaurtet), Abbie Cornish (The Girl), Meryl Streep (Hope Springs)

 


Best Supporting Actor

Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines

Maybe it’s wishful thinking or maybe it’s a hunch, but I have a feeling that Bradley Cooper will get serious Oscar consideration this year. I don’t know if the Academy would nominate him in the lead category yet (especially when it’s shaping up to be so competitive this year), but if this is a meaty role and he does it well, this could be the perfect “welcome to the club” nomination for him.

Bryan Cranston, Argo

Affleck has had luck getting his supporting players nominated in the past. There are plenty of possible acting nominations for this film, but Cranston seems to have the right combination of critical respect (for his excellent work on Breaking Bad) and relevance (his many recent supporting roles) to maybe get some Oscar recognition, if the role is good.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained

DiCaprio hasn’t been on the best terms with the Academy recently, and while I don’t think this nomination is a lock by any means, it seems like a pretty good bet. Tarantino always writes fascinating characters, and it should be interesting to see how DiCaprio does with that style.

Woody Harrelson, Seven Psychopaths

Admittedly, I’m at a bit of a loss with this category. Apparently, Harrelson has a very good part in Seven Psychopaths, and he’s had a few good years, so it could happen.

Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Joaquin is back, and I think he’ll pick up right where he left off. And while a three-minute clip is hardly enough to go from, he looks fantastic in this movie.

Other Possibilities: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), David Straitharn (Lincoln), Robert De Niro (The Silver Lining Playbook), Justin Timberlake (Inside Llewyn Davis), Guy Pearce (Lawless), Tom Hardy (Lawless), Josh Brolin (Gangster Squad), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Lincoln), Sam Rockwell (Seven Psychopaths)

 


Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Master

I have no idea what Adams’ or Dern’s parts are like (and maybe I’m just way too excited about The Master), but I could see both of them getting nominated. After all, if there’s a category where that could happen, it’s Supporting Actress (The Help! The Fighter! Up in the Air! Doubt! Two of which involved Amy Adams…)

Laura Dern, The Master

Dern has had a bit of a comeback with her work on the TV show Enlightened, and if her part is good, she could receive her first Oscar nomination is twenty years.

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Maybe I’m still sore about Hooper beating Fincher two years back, but for me, Les Miserables just has the faint scent of disaster. Now, if that turns out to be true, that doesn’t mean it’ll get shut out by the Oscars (hey, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Lovely Bones!). Hathaway seems like most likely candidate for a nomination.

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

I’m not sure if this movie will be Oscar’s thing, but Jennifer Lawrence is too big of a force to ignore right now. The Academy voters helped launch her by nominating her for Winter’s Bone, so they’ll probably want to follow that up with another nomination sometime soon.

Olivia Williams, Hyde Park on Hudson

Williams has been turning out fantastic, under-recognized work for many years. Maybe this glossy biopic will be what it takes to get her some attention. Playing Eleanor Roosevelt certainly can’t hurt.

Other Possibilities: Vanessa Redgrave (Song for Marion), Jessica Chastain (Lawless), Reece Witherspoon (Mud), Gemma Arterton (Song for Marion), Sally Field (Lincoln), Kerry Washington (Django Unchained), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jacki Weaver (The Silver Lining Playbook)