Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Artist review

I've read, and heard so much about The Artist, I just had to check it out.  After all, the movie has been nominated for 10 Oscars!  All I really knew about it walking in was, it was mostly a silent film.  Oh boy is it so much more than that.  Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has crafted a movie that is so unlike anything else I've ever seen.  In the last twenty years, we've seen it all on screen.  We've seen dinosaurs, aliens and superheros come to life.  The spectacle of if it all keeps us mesmerized.  Take away the explosions.  Take away the special effects.  Take away the dialogue.  What do you get?  A beautiful film like The Artist.  Let's get right into it!

What I liked about the film:
The Writer/Director
Michel Hazanavicius had such an unbelievable task.  Imagine this...  You have a research paper due tomorrow.  You're not allowed to use the internet to do your research, or your computer to actually write it.  Imagine someone taking away those tools and expecting your best work.  That's basically what was expected of Hazanavicius.  Telling stories is a difficult thing in and of itself.  Most directors depend on dialogue between characters to carry a story.  I said MOST directors, but not Hazanavicius.  He wrote a beautiful script about a man's fall from grace.  One tool the director did have on his side, were some amazing actors.

The Acting
Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo give remarkable performances.  Dujardin plays the titular charter, the artist.  He's a silent film actor who is on top of the world.  His movies are the talk of the town.  The artist is obsessed with fame.  Bejo plays an up and coming actress who is nothing more than an extra at the beginning of the movie.  As the story progresses, Bejo's character becomes an A-list actress, still fascinated by Dujardin's character.

The characters and the script are great, but it's Dujardin and Bejo who carry the film.  Dujardin is especially intriguing.  He starts the movie with a swagger and arrogance.  That quickly fades and we see an actor evoke someone hitting rock bottom.  Bejo plays a wide eyed starlet at first, and quickly becomes an arrogant actress in the film.  Bejo has a wide range of emotion she must convey as well.  It's such a study in acting watching these two perform.  The next time a supermodel wants to turn actress; she should be required to watch this film and decide for herself if she's worthy of calling herself and actress.  I'm not being sexist; same goes for those male rappers that think they can act as well.

Then there's the supporting cast.  John Goodman is great as a studio executive who turns his back on Dujardin's character, for the Bejo character.  James Cromwell plays Dujardin's driver and best friend.  It's great to see the four main actors show such a wide range of emotion with nothing more than their facial expressions and body language.

The Story
The story is simple in premise, but grand in its delivery.  We've seen a million stories about men and women hitting rock bottom.  But so few portray it the way The Artist does.  As the character's star power dwindles, we dwindle with him.  Every frown, every tear, every sip of whiskey to help wash away the pain; we go through it with the character.  Bejo's character is full of life, she brings energy to the screen.  The contrast of the two is very well written.  Great stuff.

What I didn't like about the film:
The Run Time
The movie is just a bit long.  I must admit, I felt a little bored during the second act.  There's a lot of material that didn't REALLY need to be in the movie.  I consider myself a patient man, and the movie almost lost me in the second act.  Small price to pay for a great story.

The Verdict:
A case study in real acting and story telling
Yes, it is a silent film.  But it's so much more.  The mechanics of the film probably attracted a lot of attention, but the execution is what earned it its recognition.  The movie never says "HEY LOOK AT ME, I'M IN BLACK AND WHITE AND I'M A SILENT FILM".  It's just another way to tell a story.  The set pieces of 1920's and 30's Hollywood are beautiful.  The acting is on another level, and the direction is top notch.  I personally don't think it's the best film of the year, but it deserves to be mentioned.  Long live silent films.

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