Thursday, 25 October 2012

REVIEW: Skyfall

Dir.: Sam Mendes
With: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem

                                                               “Orphans always make the best recruits” – M.

It’s taken me almost an hour to settle down and actually write this because I am both slightly hungover and very very excited about how good this film is. “Skyfall” is, I think, the best Bond film since the Connery era. It is also a departure from the canon and, simultaneously, a harking back to the golden days of James Bond. The film constantly addresses the themes of continuity and legacy, as well as asks the question whether Bond is still relevant in the modern day. M and 007 are the old guard, worn-out and jaded, whereas the new Chairman of the Security and Intelligence committee (Ralph Fiennes) and the young and spotty Q (Ben Whishaw) are the more up-to-date examples of modern espionage. As the two sides clash and loyalties are tested, we learn more and more about Bond and M’s back-stories.

“Skyfall” starts in a classical Bond manner, with an astonishing chase scene through historical Istanbul. Then things begin to go horribly wrong and the film diverts from the usual Bond template where 007 gets a new assignment, does some investigating, sleeps with a couple of ladies, meets the villain, action pieces here and there, a big climax at the villain’s lair, Bond and the lady get it on, the end. Here though, everything is much less predictable – the plot twists are genuinely surprising and you are never quite sure who is really playing the game. Is M really that good? What the hell is Skyfall? Why is everyone dying? Is Bond completely losing it?

The film is a bit too long but it gathers momentum with the glorious introduction of the main baddie, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). And my oh my, he definitely makes the best Bond villain ever (although Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga may just take the top spot for me). Totally deranged, rotten to the core (literally!), a man with nothing to lose, he actually flirts with Bond. Flirts! And the wonderful thing is that Bond flirts back. Bardem also brings the much needed humour to this rather dark story. His mannerisms and awful hair are disturbing and funny and his onscreen presence is nothing short of hypnotic. In fact, his performances in “Skyfall” and “No Country for Old Men” make him the best villainous type around these days (sorry, Ralph, I know you try).

Javier could have stolen the show but Daniel Craig flaunts his acting skills in this depressed and confused version of Bond. To be fair, everyone’s performances were top notch: Judy Dench’s M, the secretive iron lady, Ben Whishaw’s Q, the Quarter Master of the Twitter generation and Ralph Fiennes’ Mallory, a bureaucrat with a few tricks up his sleeve. The Bond girls, Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe, are like two sides of a coin. The former – a straight-laced MI6 operative, the latter – an absolutely gorgeous ‘riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’.

The amount of product placement is unsurprisingly high. However, it seems that Sam Mendes had a lot of control over these matters – very few of the brands are displayed in a completely obvious manner and generally everything is kept classy. Mendes’ directorial presence is felt throughout the film – he mastered both the vertigo-inducing action sequences and the emotional revelations. The current economic situation is reflected in the movie – I believe this is the first time a villain uses the London tube to get to the crime scene. Even then, it is done with panache.

Despite the film’s unorthodox ways, “Skyfall” retains that inexplicable magic of a Bond film, more so than “Casino Royale”. From the first shot inside a badly lit corridor with Daniel Craig’s recognisable silhouette creeping through (not his bulk, it’s the ears!) and the first accords of the beloved theme song playing, you are ready to lose yourself. This being the franchise’s 50th anniversary, it is also quite natural for the film to refer to Bond’s beginnings. During the wonderful moment when 007 sits inside Aston Martin DB5 from “Goldfinger” (the one with the ejector seat, remember?) and the music from the film plays, you feel like you are being transported back into the good old days, with the classier and feline Bond beating everyone around without breaking a sweat.

And as the final scene underlines – times change, fashion is mercurial but the tradition lives on. And this is rather wonderful. 

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