28 October 2012

Review: Skyfall

(Dir: Sam Mendes, 2012)

What is it about the Bond film? It’s like the comfort blanket of films. Most of us have grown up watching them and there’s always a particular actor in that role that’s somewhat synonymous with our youth. I always remember watching the Roger Moore films as a kid, even though I’m technically of the Dalton/Brosnan era. Maybe it’s the knowing what you’re going to get? There’ll be exotic locales, amazing stunts and action, beautiful people, a sense of adventure and true escapism. It’s that comfort blanket of escapism and it makes going in to watch a new Bond film quite exciting.

Skyfall very successfully follows in this tradition. Daniel Craig successfully proved himself as the character in his previous two turns in the role, being the best element in both films. Casino Royale very successfully washed away the bad memories of those last couple of Brosnan films, up until the unnecessary final third which should’ve been excised. Quantum of Solace was enjoyable but had numerous issues. And so these last few weeks I’ve been quietly looking forward to slipping back into this world.

I think it’s fair to say that Skyfall’s ace in the hole is Sam Mendes. A slightly leftfield but always curious choice as a Bond director, he’s not exactly an action director but is certainly known for dramatic gravitas. Well, he delivers on the action stakes that’s for sure. All of the action set pieces are thrillingly enjoyable and they are certainly far better shot and edited than Quantum of Solace’s unsuccessful attempts at aping Bourne. But there’s more here than just action, as there is more drama and interesting things going on beneath the surface. The Bond we see here is not just the perfect international superspy that we’re used to seeing - there are flaws and a bit more depth. We also get tantalising snippets about his distant past which other directors might’ve laboured with to reveal all but no, it’s kept tantalisingly brief and doesn’t hinder or slow the film.

The other excellent decision the viewer gets to reap the rewards of is the casting of Javier Bardem as Silva, the villain. In a sense I think all involved have learnt a lesson from The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger’s superlative portrayal of The Joker. There are shades of that character here in both the writing and acting. Although Silva’s goal is based more around personal retribution than the fantastical megalomania we’re used to with Bond villains, there’s something unhinged and menacingly devious about him. He’s makes for a far more interesting villain and Bardem excels in this role.

Visually this has to be one of the best looking Bond films yet, if not one of the best looking films I’ve seen this year. Roger Deakins has done a fantastic job with the cinematography. He makes the most of the environments he’s working in and compositionally everything looks stunning. Most notable is the use of shadows, reflective perhaps of Bond’s state of mind or just how he operates. There’s a scene in a tower block in Shanghai where the contrast of light and darkness, as well as the framing, is impressive. Whilst the climatic scenes toward the end make use of these tools again to quite frankly stunning effect.

Not everything is perfect with the film though. The story is interesting and drives the film forward well, but post viewing I can’t stop noticing some irritatingly major flaws with it. The characterisation of the leads might be strong, which includes a bigger than usual role for Judi Dench’s M and Ralph Fiennes’ Mallory who are both at their usual standard, but we’re introduced to a handful of other potentially interesting characters who we don’t actually get much from. This is particularly frustrating with the primary “Bond girl” Sévérine (Bérénice Marlohe), who when introduced seems to have some potential depth, but alas that’s ignored and she’s completely underused. There were also a handful of annoying musical cues in the film and the theme song, despite being something of a throw back to the olden days, is thoroughly bland.

Skyfall delivers, quite impressively so. Craig continues to prove why he’s one of the best actors to play 007 yet, whilst the extra layers added to the character go a long way. It’s a testament to Bardem to say that without him the film would be lacking something. Considering it’s a pretty long two and a quarter hours, the film never drags and moves along at the right pace, whilst Mendes does a great job keeping the reins on and making it all so thrilling. Ultimately Skyfall has enough to it to make it seem more than just a standard Bond film, as it is a damn good thriller in its own right. It’s definitely the best Daniel Craig Bond film and the best since the mid nineties at the least. I just hope we don't have to wait another four years to get wrapped up in this world again.

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