Police thrillers are sometimes indistinguishable in an already crowded genre, so when one comes along that rises above the pack, it makes you stand up and take notice. The foreign language film “Les Miserables” is an authentic, eye-opening look at timely, explosive social issues rocking not only France, but the rest of the world as well. It’s a gritty story of political discourse that dabbles in the familiar, but its raw authenticity make it one of the more haunting films I’ve seen this year.
Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), has recently joined the Anti-Crime squad in Montfermeil, a sensitive district of the Paris projects. Paired up with Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djibril Zonga), whose methods are sometimes unorthodox, he rapidly discovers the tensions between the various neighborhood groups. When the trio finds themselves overrun during the course of an arrest, a drone begins filming every move they make — including an incendiary act that turns the citizens against the police.
The story takes place over a 24 hour period, and it’s distressing how quickly tensions reach their boiling point. The final altercation is gripping and the payoff is there, but the film’s real strength is that it will encourage thoughtful discussion about current economic and racial tensions across the globe.
Director Ladj Ly opens eyes to a world unknown and unseen by many and in doing so, exposes the pecking order of power in the immigrant suburbs of Paris. The film at times feels like a documentary rather than a drama. It’s the stark realism that covers up the film’s minor flaws.
There are no truly good or truly bad guys here, and the film never hands down any type of all-knowing judgment. No sides are taken. The cops are forced to work under rough conditions so it’s understandable that they would sometimes crack under the pressure. The neighborhood kids have so little, both in terms of supervision and material possessions, so it’s not so difficult to understand why they would steal and get into trouble.
The film’s ending is perfect because it says it all yet reveals nothing, finishing with a message of both desperation and hope. What a way to accurately sum up the current state of the world.