Les Miserables -- not to be confused with the musical nicknamed Les Miz or truth be told the Victor Hugo novel from which it takes inspiration -- is incendiary. Literally. It takes place in a neighborhood outside Paris. There the detritus of French society live in housing projects that look like prisons or human warehouses. The film focuses on three mis-matched plain-clothes homeland security cops -- one a foul-mouthed white bigot who looks a bit like Putin, one a black cop who grew up in the hood (he bears a physical resemblance to Jesse Green from Law & Order) and the newbie, a recently transferred cop who has both a moral conscience and a Gallic nose. On the other side of the law are the immigrant kids who over-run the 'hood, and the competing corrupt interests of the "mayor," a drug lord and a Muslim Imam.
Les Miserables resembles the first act of Slumdog Millionaire or the recent indy film The Florida Project. It is hard-hitting, relentless and dystopic. It's a documentary-style portrait of a teeming underclass of kids without hope. One of the film's episodes concerns a lion cub stolen from a circus -- the cub is treated with more humanity than the kids. But in the end, the kids get their revenge.
There's nothing more unsettling than seeing the faces of these children. They have fun, they laugh, they bluster, they cower, they act out -- like children everywhere. Like our children here on the Upper West Side experimenting with skateboards and cigarettes and sex in the park. Except our children have a future. The children in Les Miserables do not.