The Artist – Movie ReviewFebruary 13, 2012
Considering that the Oscars will be presented in a few weeks, at one point or another you have probably heard about this film. The Artist won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), was heralded by critics worldwide, and has been acclaimed as one of 2011’s best films. However, is it really worth all of this hype and acclaim? After all, The Artist feels like an anachronism due to the fact that it’s a silent film stuck in a world that is obsessed with 3D and big-budget sequels.
Suitably, The Artist is all about a silent film actor at the turn of the 1920s. In 1927, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and his dog Jack are two of the biggest names in Hollywood, for their performances which helped to shape the image of silent film at the time like Charlie Chaplin and others in his day. After the premiere of his latest film, a young woman named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) bumps into Valentin while he is posing for press photographers, appearing on the front page of Variety with the headline “Who’s That Girl?” Later as she is auditioning for a dancer at Hollywood, Valentin spots her and convinces his boss at Kinograph Studios (John Goodman) to include her in Valentin’s next production. Two years pass, and Miller is now a much more prominent actor in Hollywood. At this time, Kinograph Studios is making a transition from silent films to “talkies,” also asking George Valentin to make the bold move. However, in his pride, Valentin dismisses films with sound as a fad (see the parallel to 2D and 3D?) and decides to produce, direct, finance and star in his own silent film to prove he’s right.
If it seems that The Artist has a relatively simple plot, that’s because it does. What makes this film such a joy to watch is rather in its execution. You may have thought that the idea of making a silent film in the 2010s would be an absolutely stupid idea to tell a story nowadays, but somehow Hazanavicius found a way to make that work for him here. Immediately I became engrossed into this story of an actor who thinks that he is on top of the world, and I never became disinterested in what happens on screen. In other words, the story of The Artist is easy to follow and extremely difficult to walk out on. Obviously there isn’t much dialogue in a film that remains almost completely silent throughout its 100 minute runtime, but what appears in the expected dialogue titles either adds to the drama or will squeeze some laughs out of you. Silent films don’t have much dialogue since tons of titles flashing across the screen would eventually become rather annoying, so emotional storytelling must be driven by music, mood and acting. Thankfully, The Artist manages to mix all three of those effortlessly, and it charmed me through and through. The story is also worth noting since it does deal with suitably hard-hitting themes for today’s society: economic struggle, and just loss in general. George Valentin releases his risky, relatively unknown silent film on the exact day that the Stock Market crashed in 1929, and if you ever listened in history class, you should probably be able to guess what happens next. The Artist then explores his life as he tries to deal with his immense losses and fall from stardom, and the result is altogether engrossing, heart-breaking and tear-jerking. Due to how bad our economy has plummeted in recent years, I expect that it will be difficult for most Americans to not be able to connect with Valentin in some way. In summation, The Artist is a simple yet fantastically written story in every regard, which is something that most Hollywood writers can’t claim to have succeeded at doing.
To get back to what I had mentioned about acting, the performances in The Artist are absolutely awesome. There’s a reason why both Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo were nominated for Academy Awards. First off, I would most certainly be content with Dujardin winning the Oscar for Best Actor in a few weeks, because he carries this film unlike any other actor did in 2011. He had to convince everyone to fall in love and care for his character when he only speaks two audible words of dialogue in the very end of the film, and he does it effortlessly through his emotional performance. His semi-love interest played by Bérénice Bejo also does a pretty great job at putting forth emotion without any truly audible dialogue, and she is definitely charming to look at as well (which actually counts in a film where you can’t hear her speak, but have to stare at her face to understand what she’s trying to say to other characters). The rest of the cast support the two leads quite well and give the film a modern, yet nostalgic feel for James Cromwell does very well in his role as George Valentin’s loyal chauffeur Clifton, and John Goodman is delightful as Al Zimmer, the head of Kinograph Studios. All in all, The Artist surprised me with how well its actors performed throughout the entirety of the film, and the two Oscar nominations for the leads are well-deserved. I’m convinced that Bejo will lose the award for Best Supporting Actress to Octavia Spencer due to her amazing performance in The Help, but Dujardin? He may actually have a chance; yes, his performance is that good.
Of course, what is a silent film without music and clever visuals to help tell a story? The Artist was nominated for other Academy Awards dealing with cinematography and art direction, and I clearly saw why when I watched it. The direction is excellent (yet another nominated aspect of the film) for every major shot in The Artist, and the art style is beautiful and nostalgic. Yet, it feels modern at the same time, giving The Artist a very unique, cinematic feel to it. In addition to the great cinematography/art direction used in filming The Artist, composer Ludovic Bource also did a great job in capturing the spirit of Hollywood in the 20s and 30s with his excellent musical score. Music is crucial in this film because it is the main source of emotion in the storytelling, and the musical score itself actually serves as the narrator in that sense. Suitable musical tracks pop in at the proper emotional moments of the story, expertly setting the mood of each sense and hooking in the audience. Audio and visuals are pretty much the main factors in telling a great story in a silent film, and The Artist is a superb example of how well a film can tell a story without true dialogue.
At this point, it’s probably a little too late for you to catch this movie in theaters. However, when The Artist inevitably lands itself on DVD and Blu-ray, you absolutely must rent it from Redbox, put it in your Netflix queue, or even go as far as buy it! Personally, The Artist is one of my favorite movies from 2011 (it landed itself on the #2 spot on my Top 10 list, beaten out by only Moneyball). This film is definitely Oscar material, well-deserving of its 10 (I think?) nominations, and as I said, this film is definitely on its way to winning the Academy Award for Best Picture. Of course that wouldn’t surprise, because The Artist proves that film should be not only be considered as entertainment, but also an art form. In simplest terms, The Artist is a modern classic, and a film that longtime moviegoers will appreciate more than perhaps anything else that was released last year.