Combustible Celluloid
With: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djibril Zonga, Issa Percia, Al-Hassan Ly, Steve Tientcheu, Almany Kanoute, Nizar Ben Fatma, Jeanne Balibar, Raymond Lopez, Omar Soumare, Sana Joachaim, Lucas Omiri
Written by: Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini, Alexis Manenti
Directed by: Ladj Ly
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some disturbing/violent content, and sexual references
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 103
Date: 01/17/2020

Les Misérables (2020)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hugo Boys

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Les Misérables shares the same title as at least a dozen earlier films, but it is not based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, nor on the 1980 musical based on the novel. Rather, it's a cop story set in the suburbs of Paris where Hugo reportedly wrote his tome. Certainly it would have been easy, and better, for filmmaker Ladj Ly — making his feature debut — to choose an original title. His actual choice could be read as an audacious way of snatching the torch away from an older generation and passing it onto the new (the story involves drones and stolen video footage). Or it could be seen as a way of making a pulpy cop story seem more important, and deserving of an Oscar nomination. That aside, Les Misérables has perhaps two-thirds of a solid movie buried within its 102 minutes. It concerns a new police transfer to the area, Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), who — Training Day-style — is assigned to ride with two not-quite-squeaky-clean Anti-Crime Squad officers, Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djebril Zonga), over the course of a day. Ly depicts these city streets as a tapestry of clashing cultures, including restaurant run by Muslims and a circus run by Romanians, and its these touches that, along with the roiling racial tensions and rage, that make the movie interesting, and, sadly, universal. But Ly's wobbly camerawork and self-serious tone pull the film away again, and it winds up in "not bad, pretty good" territory, if not quite Oscar-worthy.

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