Review: The Artist

daniel cohen explores one of the most anticipated films of the award season …

Plot: In 1927 Hollywood, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the biggest silent movie star on the planet. But when sound begins to take center stage in film, his craft loses its allure, and he begins to fade. As his career starts to downfall, he develops an increasing relationship with sound’s biggest up and coming star, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo).

Coming from someone who’s seen maybe five minutes worth of silent movies in my lifetime, I can honestly say that I loved this film. In the age we live in, this film could have easily played off its gimmick of, ‘hey, we’re a silent movie, and people don’t make those anymore, so you have to think this is interesting and great by default, even if our characters and story suck.’ Thankfully, it does not do that. There is real character and strong emotion here, and the allure of the silent film is used brilliantly to tell its story.

I’d say the first fifteen minutes are just ‘pretty good.’ It’s funny, it’s charming, and you are introduced perfectly to the two main characters. Berenice Bejo plays the appropriately named Peppy Miller. Her charm and charisma is oozing out of the screen, and it’s impossible not to love her. She reminds me a lot of Anne Hathaway. We also have John Goodman as Al Zimmer, who I think is a producer or some type of business man for all of Valentin’s films. How can you not love John Goodman? Even though the dialogue is all on the title cards, it’s written perfectly in that you can totally hear Goodman’s voice speaking those words. But the man who steals the show is Jean Dujardin as the protagonist, George Valentin.

Dujardin has a powerful presence in this movie, as the range of emotions he endures throughout this entire film is vast. He gets you to love this character in the first three minutes, so that when his downfall begins to take place, it’s devastating. I also love the feeling you get from the movie that this guy refuses to talk even in real life. He really detests this new element of sound. This is the type of guy who if he were around today, would refuse to buy a DVD player, let alone a Blu-Ray player, and stick only to his VHS tapes. There’s no doubt Dujardin’s name will be thrown around at Oscar time.

As I said before, the first part of this movie is charming and fun, but there’s a very distinct moment that occurs in Valentin’s dressing room when the film completely changes course, and really knocks you for a loop. It’s a brilliant scene, as it’s the first sign that Valentin’s world is crumbling around him. It’s a beautifully directed sequence by Michel Hazanavicius.

My biggest criticism with the film though is there comes a point where you know it’s all going to go bad for Valentin, and it’s just a long sequence of predictable events, like a check list of all the bad things that have to happen for him. While Dujardin’s performance still holds it together, it’s very slow paced and run of the mill, and unfortunately takes away from the film just a little bit.

Once we get through that stage though, it builds the tension back up perfectly. The end of this movie is really intense and gut-wrenching, and there’s an absolutely brilliant silent movie technique they use that was genius. Valentin also has this dog throughout the movie that I’m sure people will eat up. He actually didn’t do much for me, until the very end where he hit me pretty hard.

This movie isn’t for everyone, but I will say this: I’m not the type of guy who bows down to the history of film, and feels you have to love silent movies just because they are old, yet I really loved this film. I even liked the music a lot, and I usually hate the music in silent pictures. The two leads in The Artist are fantastic, but the real genius of this film is how they use all the elements of a silent movie to actually tell the story, and that’s the real charm. It’s interesting that I saw this movie a week after Hugo. Hugo uses the idea of silent movies as well, but it just tells you they are imaginative … The Artist actually does it.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.