|Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem in Sam Mendes' 007 film, Skyfall|
***1/2 out of ****
I’m a moderate Bond fan. I don’t think this franchise has much with which to become invested. It stars a very superficial hero who fans like because the vicarious experience of being Bond is hard to resist. Understanding him isn’t part of the experience. You don’t get to know him more than the suits he will wear, the cars he will drive, the gadgets he toys with, the women he will bed and the bad guys he will kill. James Bond is a cinematic tradition. No matter how much the world changes or how manhood and feminism are redefined, James Bond will return in some way or another, with modifications to fit him into the current state of the world.
The pleasure I get from a 007 flick, is simply out of watching essentially the same movie again and again which preserves characteristics of traditional flare, but with a new style every time. There can be a new way of shooting it, a new style of music, new materialistic goods, current fashions, state-of-the-art special effects and maybe a new actor in the lead.
Daniel Craig appears, for the third time, as Bond and he may be my favorite actor to play him… Yeah… Better than Connery. When I first saw him in the incredible franchise-reboot, Casino Royale, I was surprised how well he worked in the role. He has the reckless charm everyone has displayed as the famous character but more importantly his eyes make me think of someone who has a very dark side and a killer’s streak.
Craig worked with director Sam Mendes in the excellent 2002 film, Road to Perdition and reportedly influenced him in recent years to take on this project. Mendes may seem unlikely to some, since his most successful film to date is 1999’s Best Picture Winner, American Beauty, but as a fan of his, I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to read that he would be making a 007 movie. Upholding the tradition of classic spectacle-driven cinema comes to mind when I think of this franchise. Mendez has a consistent ability to utilize every traditional element in cinema that culminates in the magnificence of the medium.
The simplest of these elements, is an inspired cast. So many in-demand talents have come together for Skyfall. Aside from Craig as Bond and Judi Dench as M, we now have Ralph Fiennes as a British Intelligence Committee chairman, Ben Whishaw as the new Q, the beautiful Naomie Harris as an agent, Albert Finney as a man from Bond’s past, and Javier Bardem as this film’s funny and unsettling villain. We also get a relative newcomer, which is preferable for a Bond love interest, with the gorgeous French actress Bérénice Marlohe.
A bolder element to Mendes’ work is cinematography, and for the third time, he works with director of photography, Roger Deakins, who has possibly shot the most beautiful looking Bond movie ever. This is the first in the series to be shot without film. As much as I am an advocate for the preservation celluloid cinematography, this movie is a fantastic example of how far digital cinematography has come in terms of looking warm and organic. The shots are wonderfully composed, lit and timed. To explain one sequence of many, there is a scene set in a Shanghai high rise where Bond fights an assassin in the dark as the two are silhouetted by giant video display billboards, which reflect off the glass surrounding them. Gorgeous!
The final Mendes element is Thomas Newman who I believe to be one of the top ten best film composers living today. His score to Road to Perdition is maybe his very best if not his work for Frank Darabont’s Stephen King prison films The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Newman is Hollywood music royalty and lives up to the family reputation. All his pieces in this ranging from action to romance are in keeping with the Bond tradition.
The theme song by Adele in collaboration with producer Paul Epworth (he also worked with Florence and the Machine to give you an idea of how it sounds) is like a new and very improved Diamonds are Forever and plays to yet another eye-candy filled credit sequence.
Then there’s the action, which is beautifully executed and a mighty apology for the scattered, shaky, Bourne-wannabe coverage and editing of the disappointing Quantum of Solace. Skyfall has an opening chase scene with the kind of fluidity and wide shots that makes an action scene work.
Contrary to my take on this series, this one breaks the conventional approach to the character by making him deeper as well as giving his relationship with M greater meaning. Fans may be put off by this. Me? I liked it. Though I think the information void it’s filling regarding the character is more imaginable than dramatic. The result is making this particular outing feel like more than a Bond movie... it's a real good movie.