Les Misérables

The original Mad Max was set in the late 1990s, but Les Misérables – filmed in the same Parisian district where Victor Hugo set his novel – won’t need to adjust its timeline if there are any sequels to France’s latest Oscar contender for Best Foreign Film. Sadly, modern times allow this grim crime drama to bring in all kinds of fantastically filthy elements. Damien Bonnard stars as small-town cop Stéphane Ruiz, who’s going through his first shift in the big city. He’s paired with two veterans working the day shift as a street crime unit. Stéphane soon learns that the regular routine mostly involves cruising the streets and looking for trouble, with creepy partner Chris occasionally leaving their patrol car to harass young women. But then a local kid steals a lion cub from some pissed-off Gypsies, and Stéphane gets a crash course in the local clashing cultures – while also trying to cover up a dangerously stupid error caught on tape. That’s enough to make for a fine film that has enough tension just in seeing if Stéphane gets home safely. First-time feature director Ladj Ly has a grander vision, though, and bookends his procedural with big ideas. The opening is a lawless riot in the name of celebratory soccer. The closing is an urban nightmare that gives this year’s Academy Awards a perfect drive-in triple bill of Les Misérables paired with Parasite and Joker.