“The Artist” Movie Review


     There's no doubt watching "The Artist" will present a challenge for the average movie goer, as sitting through a silent film will require the acceptance of change.  As we all know, most people hate change!  Ultimately, that's exactly what "The Artist" is about.  One person's inability to accept a changing of the times and his stubbornness in holding on to the past.  Just as it was in the 1920s when making the first talking films, making a silent film today, even though a homage to the past, is a risky move, yet "The Artist" prevails as a glorious look at one of the most important times in film history.

     The shock in watching "The Artist" is instant when the opening scene features a film being played in front of a packed house.  The film is silent, but a live orchestra playing in front of the screen provides the film with an audible emotional lift, just as soundtracks do today.  The actors on screen are still talking to each other, but you can't hear them.  If they say something extremely important to the plot, than a title card, not a sub title, interrupts the scene with the dialogue for the audience to read.  At the end of the film, the actors come out on stage and bow to the crowd.  This is just how it was and "The Artist" mimics this style with the aforementioned title cards in place of dialogue and a rousing musical score playing along with the film.

     The title refers to the film's main character, George Valentin, who argues he is an artist when the producers of the film tell him silent films are being phased out in favor of "talkies" or films with audio.  French comedian Jean Dujardin turns in a tour de force performance as George and is able to allow the audience to connect emotionally with his character without them ever hearing a word he says.  An amazing feat today which makes "The Artist" such a special film. 

     Early on in "The Artist", George is a famous silent film actor.  He lives in a mansion filled with expensive art.  He is driven around town by his chauffeur Clifton (James Cromwell) and attends dinner parties that all seem to make him the focus of attention.  Outside of one of those gatherings, he happens upon Peppy Miller (Berenice Miller), a young actress who he forms a bond with and eventually helps her get smalls parts in his producer's films.

     As the story moves on, things begin to fall apart for George.  His producer (John Goodman) tells him he is getting out of the silent film business and into the talkies where he intends on making Peppy Miller a star.  At this point, George attempts to make a silent film on his own dime, but his star power seems to be gone overnight as silent film actors become an endangered species.  Meanwhile, Peppy Miller becomes a huge star in talking films and her and George's roles completely reverse.  He loses everything, including his wife, and hits rock bottom.

     It's amazing to me how much emotion I was able to feel from a silent film.  To many movies these days at their core are weak and thus none of the characters are interesting, even though we can hear them speak.  In "The Artist", the performances by Dujardin and Miller are so good  you can feel their emotions coming from within, rather than through what they say.  I liken this to when famed Lakers coach Phil Jackson spent the first several weeks of training camp coaching his players without a ball.  The players were forced to focus on the very basics of moving and screening for one another with no ball and we know what kind of an impact that had on their play during the season.  "The Artist" pulls off the exact same trick and the result just may lead to a Best Picture win at this year's Academy Awards. The cast is top notch and the story is original and quite a history lesson for anyone who is interested film.

     As always the credit for this amazing vision goes to the director, Michel Hazanavicius, who has successfully shown us there is more to a film than what people are saying.  In order to convey a message, a film has to first have heart and soul and that is what you'll get when viewing "The Artist".  If you want to say its different, it is.  Since most films today skip that step in favor of cheesy, meaningless dialogue, card board characters, and wiz bang effects.  "The Artist" takes us back to what made movies great in the first place and we'd all be well served to look at it as a lesson learned. GRADE: A