Monday, January 23, 2012

The Artist (B+)

Sigh, how can I add new angles or insight to a film that's already been discussed to death by nearly every critic on the planet? Seemingly every aspect of this film has been picked apart, critiqued with immense care for detail, and thoroughly analyzed beyond oblivion. Because the film was originally released in November, and had already played at multiple festivals before then, I'm one of the last people to get their word in, and unfortunately now most my words have been taken by others. However, this is not a complaint in the least; this film I'm reviewing was probably one of the better to be released last year. About four minutes into writing this review, I'm suddenly realizing that being intentionally vague toward which film is being reviewed I absolutely redundant as you (the reader) already know from the title, but the frequently inspected film in question is the surefire Oscar nominee critical darling The Artist.

A old fashioned black & white silent film for the modern age, director Michel Hazanavicius's first film outside the 60's style french spy comedy Oss: 117 series brings those film's actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo back to the late 1920's and early 1930's to document the relationship between a falling silent film icon (Dujardin), a rising talkie star (Bejo), and the tumultuous era they both inhabit. With supporting performances by a compelling Catherine Ann Miller and a mildly distracting John Goodman to compliment the already strong leads, the acting in the film is overall pleasant and surprisingly subtle considering how a character puts it; "silent films are people mugging toward the camera". Dujardin especially gives an outstanding performance as a former icon mourning his lost career, and Bejo isn't far behind as the peppy starlet usurping him. It's also enjoyable to see a film in which the main story isn't sidetracked for romance between its two male and female leads, while the chemistry between the two actors still remains.

Now understandably, if you've never heard of this film before you may still be caught up with the matter of this being a black & white silent film. While this is clearly the key element which draws viewers in, unfortunately this remains the greatest flaw as well. Though it's essentially the gimmick of the movie, Hazanavicius never fully succeeds in convincing us what we're watching is a relic of the time period it's set in. Yes, there's impromptu choreographed tap dancing, slapstick straight out of Three Stooges, and a "great" dog rescue, but the attempts at replicating old fashioned movie magic rub off more as a Greatest Hits sampling instead. While some homages and light jabs at 1920's and 30's cinema do succeed (such as the opening scene), in general it's certainly a missed opportunity for all involved.

Usually scores or soundtracks are not referenced in these reviews (besides London Boulevard; three months running and I'm still listening to that thing. Sorry, bad tangent), but this being a silent film whose score is expected to carry the bulk of the film's weight I find it slightly necessary for it to be acknowledged. Also carried from the Oss: 117 series was the man responsible for writing the score, Ludovic Bource. While admittedly before writing this review I couldn't truly remember much of the music from the film, to give small insight into the bleak and grueling (joke) creative process of writing these reviews, I've been listening to the score the entire time, and it's very good. Unlike the film surrounding it, the score is able to capture almost the exact feel for the films it's inspired by. These days it's very simple to take jabs at the Golden Globes for their choices for nominees and winners for their awards, but this score truly deserved the win. I'm not usually a betting man, but I can put a dollar this will get the Oscar as well.

Every once in a while, a film comes a long which everyone wants to talk about. Isn't it a bit ironic the latest example of this is a silent film? Terrible joke aside, I hope I've added some insight to a film you've probably been hearing way too much about. While the acting in this film is subtly stupendous, and it's score carries the film in the best way imaginable, Hazanavicius's ambition for this to truly be a "silent film" is what inevitably turns a outstanding film to an outstanding idea with okay execution.

Grade: B+

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