I had difficulty with The Artist. Everybody loved it and I so dearly wanted to, too. But it was just so pleased with itself, so brimming with self-regard about its black-and-whiteness and its ooh-there’s-no-wordsness and its just-like-the-1930s-ness, that I simply couldn’t love it. I could admire it, but that’s not the same. That’s like telling a girl who’s spent ages trying to get you to go out with her that you have high regard for her literacy skills.
So I wasn’t overwhelmed with anticipation when The Lodger ripped open one of those Amazon packages that he buys instead of paying me any rent and waved the enclosed copy of Lucky Luke at me.
Lucky Luke. It’s French, it’s set in a romanticised past (and given that it was made in 2009, it comes from a romanticised past), it stars Jean Dujardin. Three things that make it very like The Artist. But I refuse to dismiss anything out of hand without giving it a fair try (this is untrue. I dismiss a great many things out of hand without giving them a fair try, simply because it’s easy, it’s fun, and leaves me untroubled by any of that awkward ‘ooh blimey I quite like this even though I really should be sneering at it’ business that probably blights the life of the average Guardian Guide contributor).
And you know what? Within ten minutes I’d fallen in love with it.
|You can argue with me, but you can't argue with status|
It’s one of the best comic-book adaptations I’ve seen; faithful to the original drawings, faithful to their sly humour and knockabout slapstick. It’s certainly the best I’ve seen this year; yes, it’s knocked Marvel The Avengers Assemble (or whatever) off top spot, but it’s done that by being an entirely different type of film. Where Avengers was very much a loud, look-at-me-NOW! blockbuster tentpole movie, Lucky Luke, despite being the most expensive film to be made in France (I’m told), is small and charming and unassuming.
At the same time, it’s almost in awe of the old American west and the men therein, and it invites us to join us. It has an astonishing visual texture; the cinematography literally glows, even in the darker scenes. And it has no shame whatsoever in indulging in any number of visual puns, trompe l’oeil, verbal puns (in French when spoken, but as nearly all of the on-screen text - store signs, etc - is in English, it’s not shy of bilingual wordplay as well) and snappy doubletalk.
There’s also a hugely pretty production design; the town Luke cleans up is very much a platonic ideal of the Old Western Town, as are its ne’er-do-well inhabitants, and the final act is set in - well, I’m not telling you what it’s set in, but if you don’t applaud the way it looks, we can’t be friends.
Jean Dujardin, who was so very slightly over-smooth in The Artist, is a superb Luke; stupidly handsome, knowing it but not using it. It’s a better all-round performance than in The Artist and one that he looks like he’s enjoying a lot more. And although the Lucky Luke character as drawn is relatively simplistic and as such should be easily portrayed by almost anyone - it’s a quiff and a cowboy outfit, in essence - Dujardin looks the part. Not just visually; he’s got the hair, he’s got the squint, he’s got the cigarette, but underneath the props he’s got the attitude and the feel of Luke.
If there’s a down side to Lucky Luke, it’s that the plot can feel less than original at times; it’s fairly obvious who the bad guy’s going to turn to be, equally so for the mysterious saloon-bar siren Luke falls for.
But that’s forgivable. Don’t argue, it just is.
Go and see it. Buy the DVD. If you want to justify it on an intellectual basis, see how many references to other films you can recognise (or, if you’re a miserable sod, ‘see how many shots have been stolen from other films’). But really, you owe it to yourself. If only for the horse.