"Argylle" is a spy action thriller directed by Matthew Vaughn.
The movie follows the story of Elly Conway, a writer of fictional espionage who gets caught up in a real-life spy syndicate called The Division.
The film explores themes of appearance vs. reality, truth vs. lies, and the complexities of spy thrillers.
One of my least favourite words in the English language is ‘interesting’. Now, to be fair, the word carries several meanings, the main one being ‘arousing curiosity or interest; holding or catching attention’. That’s according to the Oxford Dictionary. But it’s not this straightforward version of the word I’m referring to. It’s the other one you get when your friend goes to a restaurant you recommended, and you excitedly ask her what she thought of the food: “It was… interesting”. Or the one you get after singing your heart out at an audition, and one of the judges says, “That was… interesting.” The version of ‘interesting’ that I struggle with is the one that’s veiled in dark mystery – possibly meaning anything from ‘awful’ to ‘I don’t know what to make of this so this is the safest word I’ll use to answer you’.
So, with considerable hesitation, as I write this review of Argylle, the best way to describe the movie is that it’s (you guessed it) interesting. What I’m happy about, though, is that there’s nuance to this. Let me explain.
Argylle, the much-anticipated spy action thriller directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), tells the story of Elly Conway, a bookish recluse who’s made quite a name for herself as a writer of fictional espionage. She has an adoring fan base, but she seems like the kind of person who’d be just as happy if Alfie, her cat, was the only one reading her books. While trying to conclude work on her latest volume – and lacking the necessary inspiration to do so – she takes a train ride to meet up with her mother, and mid-voyage, she finds her cosy world turned upside down. As it turns out, her thrilling novels seem to have stumbled into the territory of a real-life, shadowy syndicate called The Division.
On this thrilling train ride, we (and Elly) are introduced to Aiden, a charming and slightly awkward spy, who whisks Elly and Alfie into a whirlwind of secret operations and high-level conspiracies. Also, what would any of those be without heart-stopping chases? In an instant, Elly’s world becomes a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, and she must now navigate a whole labyrinth of secrets and lies. She’s been able to trust her sharp instincts as a successful writer all along, but can she still do it now that everything she knows – or thinks she knows – is being called into question? Ultimately, this is a movie about contrasts – appearance vs. reality, truth vs. lies, and all the goodies that come with spy thrillers.
Returning to the word ‘interesting’ and the nuance I promised, I’ll start by saying there’s much to like about Argylle. It’s just an all-round fun movie. From beginning to end, it keeps you watching, and there’s never a dull moment. More on dull moments in just a moment. The star-studded cast (including Henry Cavill, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, John Cena, Samuel L. Jackson, Dua Lipa, Bryan Cranston and Catherine O’Hara) are lively and hilarious in their roles. Even when they border on being downright ridiculous, it’s okay. That’s our territory with Argylle – you never know what’s coming at every turn. There’s also some brave editing in there, especially as we start to see the lines between fiction and reality blur for Elly. Stylistically, and as far as the film’s take on the spy thriller genre goes, I enjoyed what I saw.
Then comes the other side of interesting – the part where you’re unsure how to answer your friend because you don’t know if what you’re experiencing is good or bad. Because a great deal of Argylle’s story depends on withholding information from the audience, there were long stretches (the first 15 minutes are a case in point) where I had no idea what was happening. However, moments of payoff would come where I and other people watching in the cinema would collectively let out an “Oh, now I see what that was about”, relieved that the many minutes spent in complete and utter confusion were in some way justified. Then something else would leave you even more confused, then a payoff, then confusion, then a payoff. This cycle of total confusion and resolution was so frequent and intense that, at a certain point, I admit to having felt quite frustrated and even a little put-off. In the end, I asked myself, “Did the filmmakers do too much?”. The question remains unresolved. The tactics employed to ensure that there was never a dull moment sometimes felt so extreme and over-the-top that, for some reason, I no longer felt entertained. Instead, I felt like I’d been on a twisted joy ride. But then again, that is, in some way, what the world of international espionage is about. So, maybe it was par for the course.
Argylle opens in cinemas on 2 February 2024.
A reclusive author who write 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.
Running Time: 2h 19m
Release Date: February 2, 2024
Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Henry Cavill, Sam Rockwell
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Jason Fuchs
Genre: Spy Thriller
Box Office: N/A
If you're looking for a spy thriller with wild twists and turns and an ensemble cast that will keep you interested, Argylle may be right up your alley. Also, from the mid-credits scene we were treated to, we know there's more to come.
As a seasoned video writer, director, and editor, Tafadzwa Njovana brings a unique blend of tech enthusiasm and storytelling finesse to Fortress of Solitude and Sneaker Fortress.
Beyond the cinematic realm, Tafadzwa is the force behind The Reel Sauce, a YouTube channel dedicated to spotlighting the best of African screen entertainment in the ever-evolving streaming landscape. Armed with a BA Honours in Motion Picture Medium (Film Directing) from AFDA, South African School Of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance, and another in French and Portuguese from the University of Zimbabwe, he's a creative powerhouse.
Tafadzwa is not just a visual maestro; he's also a seasoned voice artist with roots tracing back to 2001. Starting with short radio spots in Harare, Zimbabwe, he later expanded his voice portfolio with Bluestar Artist Management in Cape Town, lending his warm African voice to campaigns for clients like Old Mutual, Anglo Coal, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and Engen.
Tafadzwa's talents extend beyond the screen and microphone. As a finalist in South Africa’s prestigious WGSA Muse Awards 2016, his scriptwriting prowess was recognized for the radio drama "Kundai – The Boy Who Knew It All."