Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall


SKYFALL: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes (145 min.)

Skyfall is the best Bond film ever made, and it isn't even a close contest.  Beyond that, it is one of the best films of the year, from an accomplished and competent director in Sam Mendes, whose directorial eye paired up with the great cinematographer Roger Deakins take everything here up to another level.  It is an exhilarating film with solid action, a dramatic film with compelling characters, and a smart film with a villain to match just about any Bond villain to come along in the last fifty years.

Daniel Craig returns as 007, now fully engaged in the role without a seconds hesitation.  In the standard opening sequence, Bond and an assistant field agent, Eve (the beautiful Naomi Harris), chase a man through the streets of Istanbul in an attempt to recover a list of undercover MI6 agents across the world.  The man escapes, the list falls into the wrong hands, and because of a daring call by M (Judi Dench, who gets much more to work with here), Bond is left for dead and the list is out in the open.  Of course, the list resurfaces in the form of a computer virus, and Bond is back from the dead to try and find out who is responsible for exposing agents across the globe.

Bond's mission takes him to various pockets of the world, as usual, but there is nothing standard about the way this Bond adventure looks or feels.  He is injured, both mentally and physically.  Bond fights off an assassin high atop a Chinese skyscraper backlit by neon blue lighting, and it is one of the more beautiful cinematic moments of the year.  As he glides into Macau, off the coast of China, into a casino/hotel lit by paper lanterns and fireworks, the visual artistry at work fits the Bond legend and is simply stunning.  The locales are shown off better than they ever have been before, and on top of everything the performances are filled out by great actors.  Craig is excellent as usual, and Dench is given much more of a role this time around.  And enter Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, a bureaucrat looking to straighten out the MI6 program.  And then there is Javier Bardem.

His entrance is amazing, one of the best ever in the franchise.  Javier Bardem is wonderfully slimy as Silva, an ex-MI6 agent who has a grudge against M and is determined to get his revenge.  He also happens to have an intriguing side effect from a cyanide pill in his past, but we won't discuss further.  Bond films are often defined by the power of their villain; in that case, Skyfall is the best because Bardem is one of the best.  He is slick, creepy, and diabolical all without seeming over the top.  Even his shock of blond hair fits in with his eccentric personality.  And speaking of eccentricities, Bond may be in for a slightly different sort of villain this time around, at least in the sexuality department.

As if that wasn't enough, the third act of Skyfall strips away everything, absolutely everything that has come before it.  Not only in the film at hand, but in the 22 pictures leading up to this moment.  Here is James Bond, defending his honor and his country without the advantages of gadgetry from Q (Ben Whinshaw, hearkening in the new-age movement) or the wizardry of technology.  This is a climax on the heath in Scotland, and it is thrilling, heartfelt, and satisfying in every way imaginable. 

In 2008 Marc Forster, traditionally a dramatic filmmaker, attempted to carry on the Daniel Craig Bond series with Quantum of Solace and failed in just about every way imaginable.  So there was some apprehension on my part when Sam Mendes was announced.  Despite my sheer admiration for Mendes and each one of his films in their own way, I was skeptical about his ability to direct an action film like Skyfall.  And I am pleased to say I was wrong.  From the opening shot you can see Mendes at work.  And beyond his direction, screenwriters Neil Purvis and Robert Wade have a firm grasp on the Bond lore.  Everything is in play here, from the martini to the Aston Martin to the signature lines.  There won't be a better action film to come out over the next twelve months for sure, and the next director of Bond 24 has his hands decidedly full.

A