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Skyfall

November 7, 2012

Skyfall (2012)
Director: Sam Mendes
Actors: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench

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Synopsis: James Bond (Daniel Craig) is on the hunt for a missing hard-drive which contains the details of all British spies who have covertly infiltrated terrorist organisations. When the breach is revealed as a direct threat to M (Judi Dench), Bond steps up his search, going from Shanghai, to Macau, back to London, and ultimately to Scotland, to foil the plans of the sinister Silva (Javier Bardem).

Review: Although not quite perfect (there’s a clunky and unnecessarily sentimental final act in Scotland), Skyfall is probably the best Bond movie since at least On Her Majesty’s Secret Service back in 1969. Sam Mendes brings his own particular brand of theatrical intelligence to the franchise and that shows in the strength of performances from Daniel Craig right down to the superb support cast who, though amazing actors in their own right, never steal the narrative thunder, and effortlessly inhabit their necessarily bit-part characters – from Ralph Fiennes’ excellent turn as the British Head of Intelligence, to Ben Whishaw’s amusing little stint as the new, techy Q, to Rory Kinnear as M’s loyal assistant, and Naomie Harris as Bond’s fellow field agent, who ultimately will step into more familiar shoes at the film’s climax….

I’ve been crying out for a Bond movie that is actually part-set in Britain (befitting a subject matter that is ultimately about a British spy and the British secret service), and Mendes doesn’t disappoint here. We get to see the obligatory scenes in MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall, but there’s also Bond surveying the scene on the rooftops of Whitehall, M heading back to her stately Pimlico flat, and the London Underground plays a major part as Bond frantically tries to track down the arch-criminal, Silva. That’s not to say that Mendes doesn’t honour the globe-trotting and spectacular action elements of the Bond franchise, but he does these judiciously, rather than simply acting like a glamorous promo director on the orders of his producers. I liked the atmospheric scene in a Shanghai skyscraper that pays homage to China as the new, emerging world power, and the casino/courtship scenes in Macau were the best of their type since the heady days of Sean Connery in the main role.

As said previously though, purely on a matter of personal taste, I feel it’s shame the storytellers couldn’t resist the origin/psychology-oriented final act, where Bond goes to his family residence in Scotland to entice Silva into one last showdown. I’ve always believed the character of Bond works best when just a relative blank canvas of nihilistic tendencies and ultra-professionalism, so having Bond open up to M about his childhood, felt like a Batman-style stab at pathos to me. Also, despite a stellar performance by Judi Dench, I’ve never been a huge fan of pushing the M character into the centre of the action (as Michael Apted did in The World is Not Enough), and that’s why I think making Silva’s root grievance a strictly personal sense of betrayal by the matriarchal M, is not as strong, interesting or sinister a motivation as if he had more conventional geopolitical terrorist aims. That said, the M plot-twist in the climax does segue nicely into what was happening with Fiennes and Harris’ characters, and overall, Mendes has done a fine job of retrieving the Bond franchise and making it a more legitimate creative – as well as commercial – project. (November 2012)

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