Director: Matthew Vaughn
Cast: Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Sofia Boutella, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, John Cena and Samuel L Jackson
The greater the spy, the bigger the lie — thus goes the cheeky line that tells you a lot about what to expect, and not to. As the film creates and uncovers its web of lies, what you get is not an engaging fare but a bagful of contrivances with clichés served as extra icing. Twists are a given in a spy film. Nothing ever is what it seems and appearances are invariably deceptive. Only ‘Argylle’ takes deception to an altogether new level.
We have a bestselling author, Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), of spy novels. What she writes is so eerily close to the real spy world that those she cares to unravel in her book want her head. In walks a real spy, Adrian (Sam Rockwell), who looks nothing like the one that she has imagined. He plays her saviour and takes her and her cat Alfie from one city to another. Thus begin the cat (sorry, we can’t say mouse) games. Cat occupies quite a bit of runtime, more than, dare we say, Argylle himself.
An author’s muse is nothing but his or her alter-ego. So who is Argylle really, a fictional character that Conway has created, or a real one? In the mysterious answer should ideally lie loads of tension and edge-of-the-seat moments. Sure, twists take you by surprise. Alas, you don’t feel their effect, and when they seemingly do, they do not offer any great thrill. What the heck… the puzzle lacks nail-biting finish or an adrenaline rush. Certainly, a clue has been laid out in the Q&A session the author has with her readers in the early part of the film. Her answer is not just witty, it’s a loaded one. Only you connect the dots much later.
For a film whose lead character is an author, the writing is not sharp, humour even less funny. Unless you care to laugh at ‘French give me the crêpes’. A few like ‘alcohol and secrets don’t sit together’ are amusing. The film discovers its fun element close to the climax, in a classic case of too late. The lead couple dance and kill amidst clouds of coloured dust, and Howard’s new avatar skates in slush oil lubricant to finish off the rest of the army unleashed on her. Clearly, Howard is in her element. So is Rockwell (steady and effective), and other actors too. Gosh, there are far too many: Dua Lipa, Sofia Boutella, John Cena, Samuel Jackson as ex-CIA head and Catherine O’Hara of ‘Schitt’s Creek’ fame. Lest we forget to count him in, there is the handsome Henry Cavill as Argylle. But if you, like us, are a fan, sadly we can’t say watch it for him, for he is hardly there. Just like he exists in Conway’s imagination, in the film, too, despite an action-packed start and promise of more in a post-credit scene, his presence is more fleeting than charismatic.
On the brighter side, ‘Argylle’ does defy more than one archetype on spies. In yet another universe perhaps, the novel idea would have been a knockout feminist narrative. Only, here, it reminds us that the bigger the lie, the greater the disappointment, one which even star power can’t save.