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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 04/30/1998,

Les Misérables

The musical version of Les Misérables has so imprinted itself into the collective consciousness that, even when viewers get swept up in Bille August's solid new adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel, they may be disappointed that Liam Neeson's Jean Valjean and Geoffrey Rush's Inspector Javert allow grand dramatic moments to pass without bursting into song. Neeson does make a fierce Valjean, who finds doing good a constant struggle that never goes unpunished. Rush, too, humanizes the implacable Javert with inner torment, unable to reconcile the ex-convict Valjean's righteousness with his own limited moral imagination. As Fantine, Uma Thurman gets to expire glamorously. Fantine's daughter, Cosette, who becomes Valjean's ward, is played nicely by Claire Danes as a rebellious teen chafing under her guardian's seemingly overprotective paternalism.

Prague makes a convincing 19th-century Paris, and the production design and costumes are vividly grim. Rafael Yglesias's screenplay does a decent, largely faithful job of distilling Hugo's sprawling, digressive novel, though the deliciously venal Thénardiers, dispensed with early on, are missed later. August's film won't make you forget the musical or the many previous movie versions, but an entertaining, stirring version of Hugo's tale of social justice is always welcome. Still, you may leave the multiplex wishing for something to hum. At the Copley Place, the Harvard Square, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

-- Gary Susman