First off, the only talking that happens in The Artist occurs in the final 5 minutes of this nigh 2 hour long film. The rest of the time, its just music, body language, facial expression and the odd "word card" that describe what is going on. How very silent era. And how very awesome.
I knew this was going to be an awesome movie for several reasons, not the least of which was the hype and the numerous awards the film had already bagged by the time I went to see it. The atmosphere as well added to the black and white silent movie occasion, as I was sitting in the main theatre of the Embassy cinema with its very grandiose interior decoration, lounging in the leather chair once reserved for Liv Tyler. And then the credits rolled, and the list of the supporting cast, including Missy Pyle (!!! That alone had me thrilled - where have you been, oh crazy eyed beauty?), John Goodman and James Cromwell, blew me away.
The leads though are two people unknown to me. Jean Dujardin is George, the silent era leading man with the Clark Gable look and the winning smile, and Bérénice Bejo is Peppy (very 1920s name), the youngster trying to break into Hollywood just as the industry is about to be revolutionized forever by the advent of talking movies. Both of these actors are incredible, displaying an amazing ability to slip into the acting "style" of that era, and both appear accomplished (or at least competent) dancers as well. Making the exaggerated gestures (or "mugging") seem almost normal, these two really are incredibly engaging, especially considering the distraction supplied by all the more familiar faces around them.
But the star has to be George's dog. How can it not be? Smart, witty, charming - the dog is a pint sized canine superstar.
The film does seem a little long at times. It sticks to a tried and true formula (at one point I thought that it would go down a Psycho/horror route, but that was wishful thinking), but the formula is winning and the ingredients are in perfect proportion. It's such a profoundly early Hollywood film that it is easy to forget that it is actually a French production, but perhaps it is so much the better for that outside perspective.
In the end, this film is great and I can see why it has earned the praise it has. Those leads really are incredibly gifted, and we can only hope that this is just the start of their international renown.
Verdict: The Artist is definitely a work of art, taking the best from the silent era in a movie for modern audiences. Dujardin's smile seems almost computer generated in its wholesomely charming winningness, Bejo looks great in all those flapper dresses, and the whole thing looks and (in the score) sounds like a winner, even if it drags a little now and then. 8 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame out of 10.