Les Misérables ★★★½

Pointedly repurposing the title of Victor Hugo’s classic novel about the laws of nature and grace, Ladj Ly’s “Les Misérables” bears little outward resemblance to the epic story of Jean Valjean and his stolen loaf of bread. But Ly’s first narrative feature — a gripping and grounded procedural that probes the tensions between Paris’ anti-crime police and the poor Muslim population they torment and suppress — revisits the French suburb of Montfermeil in the present day, and finds that little has changed in the 150 years since Hugo first characterized the strife he saw through his bedroom window.

Extended from Ly’s short of the same name, and inspired by the riots that erupted at the foot of the filmmaker’s building in 2005, “Les Misérables” vibrates with the kind of unshakeable verisimilitude that can only be earned through first-hand experience. At the same time, it’s not like the movie can pretend to be a sui generis portrait of social injustice. Ly doesn’t hide the fact that he obviously grew up on “La Haine,” nor does the powderkeg of a script he co-wrote with Giordano Gederlini and Alexis Manenti shy away from unavoidable comparisons to “Do the Right Thing.” The film even drifts into “Law & Order” territory at certain points, as a b-plot about a stolen lion cub is only elevated above cable TV fare on the considerable strength of Julien Poupard’s widescreen cinematography.

READ THE FULL REVIEW ON INDIEWIRE