First of all, a true confession: Until Christmas Day, I knew very little about LES MISERABLES except that it was written by Victor Hugo, was set in France, and was about a man named Jean Valjean who stole a loaf of bread and was unfairly imprisoned. Someone who teaches English probably ought to have known more, but - it is what it is.
The movie was very close to the plot of the novel. My friend Barbara reviewed the book here, and she gives an excellent plot summary as part of her review, for the person who may be unfamiliar with the plot. There are several subplots, interwoven, and the themes of redemption, justice, and mercy are clearly portrayed in the movie just as intended in the book.
The camera work and the overall production were fantastic, from the macro to the micro. The macro: Huge scenes, very dramatic and very inspiring, both set the stage at the beginning (Jean Valjean and the other prisoners in the ocean attempting to right a tilted ship) and close the movie at the end (the beautiful sweeping scene of all the renegades on top of the furniture barricade, raising French flags - the camera swept in from an overhead angle. Beautiful to look at.) The micro: The makeup was breathtaking. The poverty of the lower-class people in France was eye-opening to the viewer, down to showing the poor condition of their teeth. When Fantine loses her tooth, one almost feels like an intruder on her total helplessness and despair.
Now, I have to discuss objectionable elements. A good English teacher wouldn't be doing her job if she didn't. :-)
Gratuitousness: The scene where the young woman Fantine, for lack of a better way to say it, succumbs to the low-life lifestyle of the area, in her attempt to provide for her child after she has been thrown out of the factory, was not gratuitous. It was sad, it was sinful, but it was not gratuitous. It had to be shown to show the shocking conditions of the time and the desperation that this young mother felt. The battle scenes were not gratuitous either. The only part that I felt was truly unnecessary was the dress of some of the women, particularly in the inn/tavern scenes. The rawness of the time and the scene, in my opinion, could have been portrayed just as well without the amount of cleavage that was shown.
Explicitness: The scene with Fantine and the man was briefly too explicit. It was not hugely so, but to me was objectionable. There were other brief places of explicitness in the inn. Language issues were for the most part not present (that I could see), and the battle scene was not overly gory.
Moral tone: There were no problems with this. Sin was portrayed as sin, and the consequences of sin were negative. Most books don't last as long as LES MISERABLES if the moral tone is not reasonably good, and that was true in the movie as well. The themes were worthwhile and well presented.
LES MISERABLES was a great film. I would not take a child or a young teenager; I would be cautious with taking an older teenager. That's not because it's not a valuable portrayal of valuable themes; it is. It's just because of the objectionable elements. It was impressive; it was shocking; it raised great awareness of the hopelessness that some people feel in this world. A Christian should particularly be impacted by this film to realize and remember the great sadness of the human condition. It is a movie that will increase the viewer's compassion for mankind.