Directed by: Ladj Ly
Written by: Ladj Ly, Giordano Gederlini, Alexis Manenti
Starring: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djibril Zonga, Issa Percia, Al-Hassan Ly, Steve Tientcheu
Documented abuse by police officers usually finds its way through American airwaves because of how rampant it has always been in our society. But as this iteration of Les Misérables displays, this issue impacts people of color across the globe and specifically in France. A strong, messy, and angry story of the pain caused and the fight back.
Starting in Paris as a member of the anti-crime brigade, Pento (Damien Bonnard) has to help the hot-headed Chris (Alexis Manenti) and his partner Gwada (Djibril Zonga) on their patrol. Pento quickly learns the methods used by the two officers would not be considered ethical, as they’ve formed relationships with many of the individuals responsible for crime in the city. After a run-in with some youth where one gets shot, the officers furiously attempt to erase all evidence of their wrongdoing to avoid riots.
While donning the title of the famous musical, this iteration loosely uses its themes to tell its very own story. It focuses on the abuse of power by these officers in the name of law and order. The story begins with the euphoria of France winning the World Cup. Celebration on the streets and an elevated mood for the entire city of Paris, which then shifts to the reality of life. It feels like Training Day, where Ethan Hawke follows around the veteran, Denzel Washington and the unethical practices he utilizes. Pento bears witness of Chris and Gwada, as they harass young girls and other individuals while standing behind their badge.
The inciting incident revolves around a negative interaction with young kids that pester the police officers. While trying to control one and hold the others back, Issa (Issa Perica) gets shot with a non-lethal gun. An issue the officers can cover up if not for one of the kids, from afar, recording it on a drone. The search then commences for the officers to find that kid in order to eliminate the evidence while also further losing any morals these officers have left. Each of these officers represents toxic police behavior that causes mistrust in communities of color. Chris being the worst of them all, as he displays unchecked aggression that makes every interaction incredibly uncomfortable. Much of his anger lands on individuals of color that make it seem racially charged. He has no issues doing what needs to get done and covering it up afterward. Gwada ultimately commits the act that produces incriminating evidence and seeks only to care for himself rather than the well-being of the harmed child. He pushes that boundary being a man of color and how he stands with the communities and an officer. Pento displays signs of trying to stop the unethical actions by the other officers but ultimately falls in line because he does not want to create enemies within the force. Three officers, in their own way, contributing to a corrupt system wrought with abuse.
Director Ladj Ly created such an angry piece of cinema, as he’s stated the events in this film transpired during his childhood and the injustices he witnessed. That tension and rage hide underneath the characters while some are more overt. Ly brings us into a world where mistrust already exists between the communities of color and the police. He gives no exposition as to why, but it ultimately becomes very clear after seeing everything that occurs in the film. Fear brews through every interaction these officers have with anyone, including each other.
Everything leading up to the climactic moment expresses a fight for justice through any means necessary. The story breezes by because it never ceases to let up on the intensity of each interaction, which displays some excellent pacing. Les Misérables provides a lens into an issue in France that usually does not make it over to the United States because we have our own problems. It displays this issue of police brutality being a global deterrent to justice and peace in the world.