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Film / Les Misérables (1998)

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Jean Valjean must be taken alive.

Les Misérables is a 1998 film based on the eponymous 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:

  • Adapted Out: Valjean does not mention his sister and her children, and says that the bread he stole was for himself.
  • Adaptational Badass: Cosette is given a bit more agency (for instance, it's she who urges Valjean to escape Paris for their safety) but this culminates in her and Marius causing Javert's capture, with her holding the latter at gunpoint, when he accosts them on the way to the barricades.
  • 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. The man accused of being Valjean is named Champmathieu in the book and Carnot in the film. The convicts who accuse him are named Brevet, Cochepaille and Chenildieu in the book and Brevet, Lombard and Bertin in the film.
    • The town Valjean becomes mayor of is called Vigau instead of Montreuil-sur-Mer.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Exact Words: Valjean thanks the Bishop (whom he doesn't yet know is a bishop) for supper and a place to sleep, and sarcastically says that "in the morning he'll be a new man". That night he steals the Bishop's silver tableware. Later next morning, after the Bishop gets Valjean freed and gives him the silverware and his silver candlesticks besides, the Bishop then reminds him of the "promise" he made to become "a new man", since his soul has now been ransomed back to God etc.
  • 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!!!
  • 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.
  • Older Sidekick: Valjean's secretary and confidant at the factory is about thirty years older than him.
  • Oscar Bait
  • Parental Substitute: The often-omitted subplot of Gavroche taking care of two slightly younger boys he finds wandering the streets is included. Here, he appoints himself as their father, playfully calling them "My babies", while they refer to him as "Papa" in their final scene, set a few weeks later.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Lafitte is still alive and helping Jean and Cosette after the last Time Skip, but passed away in the book.
  • To Be Lawful or Good:
    • Valjean would rather turn himself in than let an innocent man suffer for his parole violation. In so doing, he would bring the law down upon his town, as he is the mayor; and abandon any hope he had of saving Vigau from corruption. He finds a middle way by liquidating the ownership of his factory and distributing the shares to his workers by seniority, in order to give them the same chance he had.
    • In contrast, for Javert there is only the law, which is itself the foundation of "good", and anything outside the law cannot be good. If he finds himself slandering a public official, he believes he should be punished with dismissal rather than be allowed to resign (which would be honorable). He doesn’t care what the ABC society wants; he just wants to know who they are in order to bury them. This matter leads to his demise, as he can’t reconcile the two ideals to each other when they appear to diverge regarding Valjean.
  • Truer to the Text: Valjean's stuttering housekeeper, the boys Gavroche raises, and Javert's snuff habit are retained, details often cut.