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argylle

★★

starring: bryce dallas howard, sam rockwell, bryan cranston, and henry cavill

REVIEWER: lyall carter

A reclusive author who writes espionage novels about a secret agent and a global spy syndicate realizes the plot of the new book she's writing starts to mirror real-world events, in real time.

Matthew Vaughn has been responsible for some of my favorite films. Layer Cake (2004), Kick-Ass (2010), and Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) showed a director who wasn’t afraid to take genre norms and flip them on their head with a strong narrative, flourishing, fantastical visuals, and a belting score. So with a brand, spanking new spy flick with a great cast and plans for a franchise based on a book that fuelled a bidding war in Hollywood, Argylle had the making of being a rip roaring, action stacked night out at the movies. But unfortunately; it just wasn’t. With twist upon twist that pulls you out of any connection with the story or its characters, Argylle tragically is a blockbuster misfire on multiple levels.  

 

Elly Conway, the reclusive author of a series of best-selling espionage novels, idea of bliss is a night at home with her computer and her cat, Alfie. But when the plots of Elly’s fictional books—which center on secret agent Argylle and his mission to unravel a global spy syndicate—begin to mirror the covert actions of a real-life spy organization, quiet evenings at home become a thing of the past.

 

Accompanied by Aiden, a cat-allergic spy, Elly (carrying Alfie in her backpack) races across the world to stay one step ahead of the killers as the line between Elly’s fictional world and her real one begins to blur.

 

As the film begins, we are introduced to spy author Elly Conway’s life, which is fairly mundane in light of what her literary creations get up to. Here, in this short sequence, Vaughn is at his very best, pulling us into Conway’s very thoughts as her characters act out and then correct scenes as writes. But then it all starts to head south. 

 

The central lynch pin of the plot is that Elly’s fictional spy stories start to come true. It’s a reach, narratively, with little explanation around how that is possible. And as the story unravels, with plot twist after twist, even though there is some explanation given, it just feels so narratively far-fetched and unearned, even in this world, that it's distracting. 

 

The action sequences aren’t nearly as ground breaking as Vaughn’s previous work and even the affable Bryce Dallas Howard isn’t that likable here. Sam Rockwell is the only one who adds a little heart and laughter to proceedings. 

 

With twist upon twist that pulls you out of any connection with the story or its characters, Argylle tragically is a blockbuster misfire on multiple levels. 

★★

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