Review # 166
Director – Sam Mendes
Cast – Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Albert Finney, Bérénice Lim Marlohe
We start off with a Bond who is believed dead, but who is really taking some quality time on some un-named Caribbean island. He is a wreck of a man, at least compared to what he once was. Trouble at MI6 leads him back, where he finds his skills have grown very rusty indeed. When undergoing re-assessment Bond finds he can’t hit a target the way he used to; he strides forward angrily, firing round after round. Not one hits a vital area.
But duty calls, and perhaps out of misplaced trust in him, M decides to throw 007 back into the field despite his dismal aptitude scores. He is after terrorist mastermind Silva, a man who has already blown up MI6’s headquarters, and seems to have a strange amount of knowledge of the inner working of Britain’s top spy program. But when it comes down to the final count, we see it’s not skill so much as will that makes the difference here.
Never before has a Bond movie had such a cast. We have the regulars, Dench, Craig, etc. But add onto that Fiennes in a great “English gentleman” role, Bardem as a great villain who sets the perfect tone, Finney as a reliable old caretaker (rumoured to have been planned as a winking role for Sean Connery), even Whishaw as a young and sly Q. This is a cast that screams prestige, and throw in Sam Mendes as director and we really have something to raise the eyebrow. The movie is well paced, has great action, and even throws a nod to the Bonds of the past. This is the old man’s 50th anniversary, you know.
In retrospect, Bond has come along way from his beginnings in many ways, yet in many other ways he has not. Women can now be field agents, though they may prefer a desk job when all is said and done. 007 still sleeps with every skirt he comes across, and he still has to (inevitably) watch the villain blow them away. He doesn’t have as many cool toys as you may expect, though one particular car makes a crowd pleasing re-appearance. But the most fundamental way that Bond has changed in the last decade or so is to have an added sense of world-weariness. He kills, puns, and fornicates his way across the world, but you get the sense he doesn’t enjoy it as much any more. People argue that Fleming’s books always had a bit of this, but the movies have generally had a more light-hearted approach. That is gone now. Bond is hewing closer and closer to Bourne.
This isn’t a particularly ground breaking comment, to be sure. But you have to wonder how long this trend will continue. Skyfall has a wonderfully low-key third act, that works very well despite a slight loss of urgency. When a terrorist is seeking M and Bond, they sneak off to a semi-abandoned mansion in Scotland. They take the fight to a remote area, to gain the upper hand and to cause less damage. (This is a wonderfully unexpected turn of events. Since when has Bond cared about collateral damage?) This is not the Bond we expect, and it works, but for how long can it? The reason it works so well is that it flies against convention, but I find myself hoping that what we have here is a strange side route, to be relished for its uniqueness; then we can jump back onto the main road for some “kiss kiss bang bang”, as they say. Indeed, we get a sense of that direction from the final scene. Moneypenny is at her desk, M is in his (!) office, Bond is being handed a dossier marked “Top Secret”, and we even have the coat rack back. Has the Bond train been diverted to its more fun and swashbuckling main line? I must admit, I hope so.
Skyfall is a bit of a departure from the usual Bond tone, but not too much so. It has the perfect tone for what it’s trying to do, and manages to wring a decent bit of fun out of the whole thing. Craig is settling wonderfully into his role, and the rest of the cast is superb. The final scene leaves us waiting with bated breath for the next one, and in the end, what more can we ask for. Skyfall is one of the better Bonds, made all the more interesting by its (comparatively) low-key third act. Bring on Bond 24!
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Great Non-Bond Movies by Bond Actors
Being widely associated with a specific role can be detrimental for any actors career, especially to any man who has uttered the iconic line “Bond, James Bond.” Two actors never lived it down, Roger Moore and George Lazenby, and I couldn’t even find a movie for them on this list of good non-Bond movies by Bond actors. I also told myself that, of course, I would have to stick to movies I have actually seen. Here goes!
The Original Bond – Sean Connery
1. Murder on the Orient Express (Trailer)
Murder on the Orient Express is a wonderfully stylish and energetic adaptation of the famous Agatha Christie novel. A murder is committed while a train is stuck in a snow drift in Europe, and private detective Hercule Poirot must unravel the mystery. Connery, joining a stellar cast, plays a snooty and very English man, Colonel Arbuthnot. It is a small role, but then again most of the roles in this movie are, and Connery makes a great impact with his limited screen time.
2. A Bridge Too Far (Trailer)
A Bridge Too Far is another all-star cast for Connery (and check out the ‘stache again…), and another soldier role as well. Connery plays Major General Urquhart. This one centers around a disastrous operation during WW II called “Operation Market Garden”, during part of which Allied troops parachuted behind enemy lines. Connery does his steely eyed commander soldier bit here, and certainly holds his own amongst what may be one of the awesome-est casts ever (Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Dirk Bogarde, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman, James Caan, Edward Fox, Sean Connery, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, and Maximilian Schell.) Some have criticised the movie for being over-long, and while you certainly need a bit of patience, A Bridge Too Far is one of my favorite war movies, if not my top favorite.
3. Time Bandits (Trailer)
Time Bandits is a Terry Gilliam movie about six dwarfs who are accidentally accompanied by a young boy on their time travelling adventures. It is about the spirit of imagination, and despite having the usual Gilliam problems, it is a spirited and fun little adventure movie. The movie is pretty episodic, and Connery appears in one of the segments as King Agamemnon, and then in a final scene as a firefighter. The two are hinted to be the same person. He brings a nice weight to the role, and the movie in general.
4. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Trailer)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the last Indiana Jones movie (shut up! shut up!), and having Connery along as Indiana Jones’ father was a stroke of genius. He perfectly contrasted his son’s wild ways, lampooned his past Bond status, and all the while had perfect chemistry with Harrison Ford. This is my favorite Indiana Jones movie, and is one of the rare “three-quels” that was worthy of the franchise’s name.
5. The Hunt for Red October (Trailer)
The Hunt for Red October stars Alec Baldwin as spy (?) Jack Ryan (the first of the multi-star franchise) and Connery as a Russian sub commander who plans on defecting to the United States. This is probably my favorite movie of Connery’s (including his Bond movies), and is the last of action director John McTiernan’s trifecta of great movies (preceded by Predator and Die Hard). It is really a tense thriller rather than an action movie, but it has its action elements as well. Although I think I’m in the minority when I say I didn’t find Connery’s “Scot-Russian” accent distracting…
The Under-Rated Bond – Timothy Dalton
1. Hot Fuzz (Trailer)
Hot Fuzz is a hilarious cop-movie spoof starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, along similar lines as their Shaun of the Dead was a parody of zombie movies. Story-wise, Pegg stars as a London cop who is moved to a rural area for essentially being too good at his job. Dalton is a local supermarket owner who falls under suspicion of committing a string of local murders. Nobody plays sinister and charming like Dalton, and he plays this role to the hilt.
The Toy Story franchise continues with this funny and touching movie. I’ve always thought of the Toy Story series as a bit over-rated, but there is no denying that they certainly are quality entertainment. Dalton plays a theatrical hedgehog with slight delusions of grandeur, and makes fair use of his allotted screen time.
The One Who Revived Bond – Pierce Brosnan
1. The Tailor of Panama (Trailer)
The Tailor of Panama is really Geoffrey Rush’s show, but Brosnan co-stars as a British spy who convinces Rush’s tailor character to work with him. The movie is great looking but perhaps doesn’t quite reach its full potential. It still has its own charm however, and certainly is enjoyable. Brosnan isn’t really removing himself from the Bond character here though, as he plays a British spy who seduces beautiful women. He is good at it though…
2. Married Life (Trailer)
Married Life is a light little movie about infidelity and the consequences, or lack, thereof. Chris Cooper is the lead, and Brosnan appears as his friend. Cooper and Brosnan compete for a certain ladies affections, and Cooper even decides to kill his wife to get her out of the way. Married Life takes place in the 1940’s, and Brosnan makes a great “classy gentleman” of that era.
3. The Ghost Writer (Trailer)
Polanski’s The Ghost Writer has been unfairly overlooked over the last year or so. It is an unusually tight and competent political thriller, that, while it may lag towards the latter half, has an excellent ending. Ewan McGregor stars as a ghost writer who is assigned to work with a disgraced former Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan. This is the best work I’ve ever seen by Brosnan. He is cold-hearted, has a chip on his shoulder, and yet is strangely understandable. It is a wonderful performance.
The Reboot Bond – Daniel Craig
1. Road to Perdition (Trailer)
Daniel Craig has a supporting role in Road to Perdition as the spoiled and violently jealous son of Paul Newman’s gangster. His role is small but important, as he sets off the story by gunning down a rival accidentally in front of Tom Hanks young son. The role is brutal and cruel, and Craig shows a bit of the dark side he would later do with Bond.
2. Layer Cake (Trailer)
Layer Cake was originally intended to be a Guy Ritchie movie, but was instead directed by Ritchie’s oft-times producer, Matthew Vaughn, who has since gone on to make a name for himself as a director. You can certainly see why Ritchie would have been attached, as the story of Layer Cake has much in common with Snatch, etc. Vaughn however shot it in a style polar opposite to Ritchie, and the result is quite good. Craig stars as a cocaine distributor who is trying to maneuver his way out of the crime world. There is a rich supporting cast, but Craig stands out in the role that first brought him notice.
3. Munich (Trailer)
Daniel Craig has a supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s Munich as Steve, a driver for Eric Bana’s team of assassins who attempt to avenge the terrorist killings of Jewish athletes during the 1972 Olympic games. The movie is much darker than most Spielberg movies, and despite the fact that it drags a little, the movie is largely effective. Craig and the rest of the talented supporting cast add great weight and welcome colour to the movie.
Daniel Craig also has his name involved with a couple upcoming projects, namely Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens (Trailer) and Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Trailer). I look forward to seeing what I hope will be a long and varied career in the same vein as Sean Connery. Here’s hoping!
Thought? Comments? Any films you’d add? Feel free to comment!
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