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Film Review: Skyfall

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To the manor Bond

There’s nostalgiaabout this film as it marks 50 years of Bond.  It also fulfils audience requirements in that since Casino Royale thrust Bond back into fashion audiences have been waiting for another action packed Bond Film (considering Quantum of Solace garnered less enthusiasm).  Plus, a Bond film is one of those films that you go to the cinema knowing you will like: you may be able to see its flaws, but on the whole you know you’re gonna like it.  It inspires and revisits the excitement of when the new Bond would be out (or even an old one on television) from childhood.  But…

…Don’t believe the hype: this is not the best Bond film ever made.

It is a Bond of two halves:

It’s definitely Casino Royale mk2 for the pre-title sequence: a pulsating chase through Istanbul that culminates in a reasonably edgy segue into the titles.  I liked the titles and the song is fittingly Bond-esque (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Adele involved in further films).

The film continues apace punctuated with a couple of dull moments that are clearly there to show depth to Bond’s character, but feel clunky and ill-conceived in relation to the rest of the film.  It seems that in this “Bond universe”, contrary to the rookie Bond in the previous two Craig outings, Bond is a washed up (literally) drunk: battered and bruised and self-aware enough to know that espionage is fast becoming a young man’s game where technology outfights brawn.

But, with a list of secret agents being leaked by a disturbingly camp former agent Silva (Javier Bardem), Bond is soon found to be useful, particularly as this adventure becomes more personal.  Silva is potentially Bond of the future: as an agent he pushed the boundaries of his remit too far and M hung him out to dry.  Silva explains as much to Bond, but the similarities between them seem to pass him by and, unfortunately that theme does not get revisited.

There are some great set pieces and when the action does get going it grabs the film by the scruff of the neck and lifts it way beyond the shaky plot.

At some point the main plot, the secret agents list, is discarded and it becomes a film about Bond protecting M from all-out assault from Silva.  This second half of the film seriously loses its way for me and I began to lose interest.

Silva also inexplicably discards his clever scheming and terrorist tactics in favour of all out warfare.  Perhaps it was to show that the list was trivial to him and all that mattered was M, but this was not really represented in the film.

What this film does do is give M much more screen time than previous Bonds.  Judi Dench’s clipped and matronly interactions with, particularly Craig’s, Bond have always been well worked.  Unfortunately, in this film Judi Dench shows more of her “As Time Goes By”, rather than her Academy Award winning acting chops.

Although the “Straw Dogs” style siege at the end offers up impressive action again, the shine is taken off by the manner in which we got to this point.

At times it feels like fan fiction: revealing more of Bond’s past and knowing nods and winks to previous films (and Bonds).  That’s not to say that it doesn’t work, but it places Daniel Craig’s Bond in that uneasy area where previous Bonds are regarded as the same person: George Lazemby clearing his desk in OHMSS springs to mind. 

This might seem like a damning review, but I actually enjoyed the film.  You do have to suspend belief when watching Bond and I’m more than ready to do that.  I suspect the hype led me to believe that this really could be the best Bond of all.  It always helps when you like a Bond and, Brosnan aside; I’ve liked all Bonds (yes, some more than others).  I honestly think that Daniel Craig is a great choice and conveys Bond’s ruthlessness and charm extremely well.

The film redeems itself massively in the final 20mins and I also suspect that audience members leaving the film on a high and full of anticipation for the next film in the series will have also added to the rave reviews.  It sets up the next phase of the series really well and I will be relishing when…James Bond will Return…

My Rating 3/5

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No Country for Old Men

Admittedly, I’m a little late jumping on this particular band wagon, but thanks to my rental list, I’m now up to speed with what all the fuss was about at the 2008 Oscars.  I had read the book before watching, which may normally give me the excuse I need for not having seen the movie till now, but the book takes precious little time to get through.

Cormac McCarthy’s approach to the book seems to be an exercise in minimalist writing.  The reader enters the story at the absolute latest possible moment and leaves the story at the earliest opportunity.  In between are pages of modest dialogue; modest by way of the word count, but as punchy and terse as any hard-boiled crime fiction, and sporadic descriptive text to keep us up to speed with the locale and the action.  Yet, whilst keeping a minimalist approach, the story grips you from the outset and does not let go until, rather like Llewelyn Moss, you feel like you’ve been put thoroughly through the wringer.

The film follows the book in style and content almost to the letter.  The book does almost read like a screenplay, so the Coen brothers’ task to transfer the book into screenplay format must have taken little more than copying it in to Final Draft.  And this is where I learnt a little about the Academy Award fro Best Adapted Screenplay, which the Coen brothers duly won with this.  My initial reaction was that I, or anyone, could have won that award with such excellent source material.  But, then, isn’t that the point?  That the finished movie is a direct adaptation of the source on which it is based rather than a bastardised version abbreviated or expanded upon to meet the perceived cinemagoer requirements.  In fact, the only part of the book that had been tampered with was the drastic reduction of a character, only seen in the movie as Moss passes the motel pool, who was quite prevalent towards the end.

Still, to turn this book into a bad movie would be easy, as you could get blasé over the ease at which you can adapt it.  So, the Coen brothers sidestepped that pitfall by using actors and locations that suited the story to a T.  Tommy Lee Jones has enough of his usual cragginess to play the world weary Ed Tom Bell and Javier Bardem is movie stealingly good as the frightening Anton Chigurh, in spite of his hairstyle’s passing resemblance to Clint Boon of the Inspiral Carpets.  Josh Brolin surprised me with his effortless cool as Llewelyn Moss and the minor appearances of Kelly MacDonald and Woody Harrelson provided excellent support.

No doubt, as with most of the Coen brothers’ films, it won’t be to all tastes, but I thought it was an excellent visualisation of the book.  I can’t honestly remember seeing a film that was more faithful to the source material – the caveat being one where I have read the source material too, so I am bale to compare.

My rating: 4/5