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Film / Les Misérables (1998)

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Not the film of the musical. That's later.
Les Misérables is a 1998 film based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Directed by Bille August, it stars Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean, Geoffrey Rush as Inspector Javert, Uma Thurman as Fantine, and Claire Danes as Cosette. Basil Poledouris composed the score.

This film provides examples of:

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  • Adaptation Distillation: The emphasis is boiled down to Jean Valjean vs. Javert, with other plot threads reduced or cut entirely. Even the romance of Marius and Cosette is reduced (and is not a love triangle with Eponine, who like all the Thénardiers is barely in it).
  • Adaptation Name Change: Fauchelevent is renamed Lafitte. The prisoners at the trial also get this, and even the town Valjean becomes mayor of is called Vigau instead of Montreal.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Like the previous Hollywood version from 1935, the film ends with Javert's suicide, omitting the months of further plot development from the novel that end with Valjean's death.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Javert, so much. Also Valjean punches out the Bishop during the robbery.
  • Abusive Parents: Averted. The scene where Valjean slaps Cosette is clearly the only time he’s done so, to the shock and dismay of the two, and Cosette calls him out on it. Still, the novel's Valjean never does such a thing even once.
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  • Composite Character: Marius takes on Enjolras' place as the leader of the Friends of the ABC, although there is still a character named Enjolras in the film.
  • Freudian Excuse: Played with. Javert coolly explains to Valjean that his father was a thief and his mother a prostitute, which he notes is a parentage he is ashamed of, but will not hide. His dedication to the law is clearly a polarized response to his parents, but he clearly has a particular hatred for prostitutes. This is demonstrated when he allows Fantine to be brutalized, and kicks the dog.
  • Inspector Javert: Javert, obviously. He’s also a Knight Templar to his superior.
  • Kick the Dog: Javert is a fan of this trope, and in an especially cruel way, terrorizes Fantine on her death bed.
  • Large Ham: Javert, thanks to Geoffrey Rush.
    I KNEW IT!!!
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  • The Lost Lenore: Fantine becomes this to Valjean, as a result of being Promoted to Love Interest.
  • Mercy Lead: As Valjean knocks out Javert and prepares to flee, he's confronted by another officer, who asks him if Javert is dead. After Valjean tells him "no", the officer declares "That's a pity", then turns around and tells Valjean, "Make it look good", essentially telling Valjean to give him a Tap on the Head and allow him to escape.
  • Mercy Kill: Evoked in a Bait-and-Switch. In the final scene, Javert takes Valjean to the edge of the river and points his gun at him, making him (and the viewers) think he's going to kill Valjean to save him from going back to prison without compromising his own morals by letting him go free. But in the end, he throws himself into the river instead.
  • The Mole: One of the Friends of the ABC is an infiltrator, feeding Javert info. Javert himself also tries to pull this off, but blows his cover when he threatens Cosette in an attempt to finally apprehend Valjean.
  • Oscar Bait
  • The Queen's Latin: Despite being set in France, English accents are to go, with those actors who hail from beyond the British Isles assuming suitable accents for the occasion.
  • Race Lift: Enjolras is black, though the film's Marius is more like the book's Enjolras than he is.
  • Shown Their Work: Valjean's stuttering housekeeper and Javert's snuff habit are retained, details often cut.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Jean Valjean is still alive at the end of the movie, though this could just be due to the fact that the film ends long before the book did.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Javert. This question leads to his demise, as he can’t reconcile the two to each other.

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