Argyle is a bad movie. It contains shoddy visual effects, underwhelming action scenes, way too many twists and turns, all packed into a whopping 139 minutes running time. For a film that's supposed to be an exciting spy adventure, it's surprisingly lazy, and that comes down to something as small as its soundtrack. Argyle features the most misjudged needle drop I've ever heard – a choice so bad that it's also, frankly, the most compelling reason to see this wildly inept film. And it happens three times.
(Spoilers for Argyle in front!)
The first time we hear “From time to time» by the Beatles, the so-called “final” song of the group produced with the help of AI, is at the beginning of the film. Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), an author who writes spy novels, eavesdrops on him, which doesn't seem particularly meaningful. But later we find out that the song is an integral part of Ely's past. About seven bland action scenes and 17 plot twists later, “Now and Then” plays again. But this time, Aidan, a spy who was Ely's (played by Sam Rockwell) former lover, comments on the situation. When they were together – five years ago, we're told – “Now and Then” was his and Ely's song.
It's supposed to be a good time, except what Aidan claims is literally impossible. “Now and Then” was released in November 2023, just three months before Argyle released in theaters; the film would also have been filmed between August 2021 and January 2022: more than two years even before the release of “Now and Then”. There is no way the song was written in the script or heard at all during production.
Worse still, if it was Aidan and Elly's song “five years ago”, the movie would have to be set in 2028 at the earliest. But Argyle is clearly situated in our current times; all Apple product placements make this clear. (Naturally, Apple produced and distributed the film.) While the film tries to convince us that Aidan and Elly have heard this song countless times before, audiences watching the film in February 2024 know that can't be possible. It's distracting, hard to ignore, and, worst of all, catastrophically lazy, which says a lot about the film itself.
Using this specific song in this way might have been easier to forgive if we never heard it again afterward. But Argyle triples the “Now and Then” motif, and the song plays again in the film's emotional climax. Elly and Aidan fight to the death on a boat (Elly's brainwashed again… that's a big deal), and a thunderous instrumental version of the song blares in an over-the-top way. It's supposed to be either funny or touching the heart…Argyle cannot engage in any of these impulses: have their beautiful love song turned into fodder for their duel. But as this melodramatic version of “Now and Then” plays again, Argyle rather reminds us of one thing: its producers spent a lot of money on this AI-assisted Beatles track, so yes, you will hear it again, even if there isn't an iota of logic.
“Now and Then” is a good song and the Beatles are a great band. Either one is far from the problem. That's because using Beatles music is extremely expensive – it's not the kind of musical cue a supervisor would choose without thinking. For reference, most songs cost between $20-45,000 for the license, a cost that can increase significantly with repeated use of the song. But when Mad Men commonly finished an episode with Don Draper listening to the phenomenal “Tomorrow Never Knows” out of Revolver, it cost the studio $250,000. Universal Pictures paid a whopping $10 million for the rights to feature the Beatles' catalog in the film. Yesterday– almost half of this film's $26 million budget.
When studios spend huge amounts of money to use a certain song, you better believe there's a reason behind the choice. In Mad Men, the use of “Tomorrow Never Knows” perfectly sums up how Don was behind the times. Well, it would be terribly difficult to make a film like Yesterday, which is about a man who finds himself in a timeline where the Beatles never existed and sings their songs to become famous, without Beatles songs. But the reason “Now and Then” plays in Argyle three incredibly incredible moments aren't driven by creativity or narrative purpose. It's nothing more than a solution from a big-budget studio, which prioritizes showing off the infinite depths of its portfolio over the internal logic of its film.
Honestly, credit where credit is due: using a song that the characters could never have heard as their defining love song is an incredibly stupid thing to do. You would certainly never imagine a film with so much money invested and so many stars to go for something so blatantly false and, more embarrassingly, easily avoided – but it does. If the film ended with the reveal that it was set in the future, perhaps that would be a worthy twist for the spy film genre. Argyle is so desperate to be.