A loving tribute to the 1920s silent-age cinema, writer-director Michel Hazanavicius's THE ARTIST is an entertaining and soulful crowd-pleaser without the aid of spoken dialogue or sound, and also shot in black-and-white. It's certainly a risky choice to release such movie these days in the 21st century but the good news is, Hazanavicius does the impossible to make this one of the must-see movies of the year.
Jean Dujardin is George Valentin, one of the Hollywood's biggest stars of the silent era. He is well-loved not only by the industry and his peers, but his sizable loyal fans as well. He also lives a good life with a faithful assistant, Clifton (James Cromwell) and his devoted pet dog. One day he gets to know an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) and it doesn't take long before they shoot a short scene together for his new movie.
Then Hollywood takes a drastic turn-of-event when the first talkie movie, THE JAZZ SINGER, makes headline in 1927 and the golden age of silent movie quickly declines. Within that moment, George is no longer relevant to the industry and he can't even land a role mainly because he refuses to embrace the change. Meanwhile, Peppy Miller becomes the toast of Hollywood and rises into superstardom. George sinks into desperation and yet he is convinced that his viewers still wants to see silent movie. With no studio willing to finance his new movie, he risks all his personal savings to make a grand adventure story in which he stars, writes, and directs that he believes will win back the viewers who have abandoned him at the first place. Unfortunately his new movie hardly makes an impact at the cinema, and soon his once-flourished life goes from bad to worse.
Movies about showbiz rise-and-fall stories are nothing new, but Hazanavicius manages to make this an otherwise formulaic genre into something remarkably refreshing. Not only he succeeds on making a well-crafted throwback to the bygone era -- the stage-like look of the period, Guillaume Schiffman's authentic black-and-white cinematography, Ludovic Bource's beautifully layered music score -- he also knows well how to balance this movie both as a charming comedy and a weighty serious drama at the other hand. I must admit the first half of the movie doesn't make much of a lasting impact as I would hope for, but the more dramatic second half is what makes THE ARTIST such a great award-worthy contender at the first place.
The cast is especially first-rate, with Jean Dujardin delivers a tour de force performance as the egoistic and stubborn George Valentin. He certainly deserved all the recognition he won the Best Actor award at Cannes, Dujardin is destined to be one of the most distinguished international stars ever seen in recent memory. Just like Clark Gable (especially with that mustache he's wearing there), he's flamboyant, charming, funny, and vulnerable all in one. As Peppy, Hazanavicius's real-life wife, Berenice Bejo, is truly a stunner and her chemistry with Jean Dujardin is just as memorable.
The supporting roles are as equally well-played as the two lead stars alone. John Goodman is pitch-perfect as the cigar-chomping movie director Al Zimmer, while James Cromwell is simply touching as George's devoted assistant Clifton, and also Penelope Ann Miller who plays George's long-suffering and underappreciated wife Doris. Then there's George cute little dog who actually have its own scene-stealing moment, particularly at the second half of the movie, where the dog tries to save George's life from a fire at his house by running across the street and barks at the nearby police officer to get help.