Starring: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga
Director: Ladj Ly
Running Time: 103 mins
Les Misérables is a French film about a team of police officers who navigate a deprived area of Paris, but soon find themselves on the back foot after a devastating incident.
A slow-burner that gradually opens up in thrilling fashion, Les Misérables is a film full of fire and passion all the way through as it details a hard-hitting story. Complete with great performances and an ingenious conclusion, it’s an utterly gripping watch from start to finish.
Les Misérables is a film so rich in depth that you could talk about it for hours, but what’s most interesting is the way that it unfolds so subtly from a more standard crime drama into something far, far more powerful.
The story kicks off with euphoria on the streets of Paris after France win the World Cup, but soon begins to see that feverish happiness tinged with the cold, harsh light of reality, as we dive into the complex world of one of the city’s most deprived neighbourhoods.
Hailing from that very neighbourhood, writer-director Ladj Ly gives an especially passionate and accurate viewpoint on how the local community works, telling the story not just through the eyes of the police protagonists, but the residents who lock horns with the law on a regular basis.
For the best part of the film’s first half, things play out as a more standard crime drama. The socio-economic context of the story is apparent, and Ly’s passionate insight into the community is striking, but it isn’t necessarily the deeply impactful watch you might expect.
That changes, however, in the aftermath of a devastating incident that pits the police officers against the locals in dramatic fashion. Through the film’s first half, we follow the cops as protagonists, but there’s a seismic shift in your perspective of them as events begin to unravel.
Therein lies the film’s real beating heart, as it evolves from just another crime drama into a deeply passionate and powerfully hard-hitting account of the pent-up rage and anger created by the supposed stability of the current administration.
The police officers aren’t portrayed as evil, brutal antagonists, and the locals who begin to rebel against them equally aren’t showered in glory, but the point that the film tries to make is how the turmoil, crime and deprivation of the neighbourhood is not the fault of the locals, but of those who cultivate and oppress them.
Even when you think the story is done and dusted, Les Misérables has a gut-punching finale still up its sleeve, with an ingenious call back to the story from which it takes its name, and a rousing, thought-provoking account of what happens when the oppressed finally say that they’ve had enough.
It’s a fascinating film that has so much to say, and does so with staggering passion and immense ingenuity. It is a slow-burner, but the way the film opens up is thrilling to watch, and along with an enormously hard-hitting message, Les Misérables proves a particularly striking watch right to the finish, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7 overall.