A review

By Nicholas Davies

   There is certainly an effect that celebrations or anniversaries have on individuals; usually, this means consuming large amounts of confections and reminiscing about days gone by and ruminating on how blissful they were and what fun it was to live in such ignorance. Celebrations also tend to cloud judgment: no longer is one bound by the logic of the societal norm but instead focused on what has come before and indeed, in the year of its fiftieth anniversary, one could attribute such an opaque view to the James Bond franchise: everyone reclining in leather chairs, remembering their first Bond film, who their favorite Bond is, etc, etc. But, when one blows the confetti and the left over cake is fed to the dog, there is one certain fact…that the twenty-third film in the franchise, “Skyfall” is not only one of the best in the long-running series, but is also one of my favorite films of the year.

   Unlike its shambles of a predecessor, “Quantum of Solace,” “Skyfall’s plot, besides actually existing, is a thrilling narrative that has the world’s greatest spy, played with stunning conviction by Daniel Craig, defending not only what is left of MI6, but also his boss M (Judi Dench) and the sins of her past after a series of attacks against her orchestrated by Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). But, even with a plot that actually makes logical sense and does not leave one scratching their heads as to just what on earth is going and why that particular individual is even in the cinema to begin with, the film truly excels as a character driven piece, fronted by Craig who is without question my favorite Bond as he, at least to me, is the closest that any actor has come to inhabiting the character first presented in Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel “Casino Royale”: a narcissistic blunt instrument of brutal death seeded with a deep emotional issue that is buried with acres of amour. Craig, thanks to director Sam Mendes and writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, is able to actually develop the character this time around, becoming the old war horse that has been in the thick of it a time or two and is starting to suffer because of it. The supporting cast, which has been impeccably congealed together by Mendes, compliments Craig splendidly, whether it is Ben Whishaw or Naomi Harris or even Ralph Finnes, which is most surprising given how little of a fan of his I am.       

   Somewhat naturally, however, there are two other stellar performances that should be noted, the first being the incomparable Judi Dench, who is wonderfully understated as M, as one would expect a fine Shakespearean actress to be, giving the necessary weight and heft but also allowed moments of individual brilliance such as reciting Tennyson or allowed to have moments of cheek alongside Craig. The other polarizing performance comes from Javier Bardem and his wonderful teeth and hair; in other words, Bardem ventures completely into pantomime villain territory, campy at times to the nth degree, and the film benefits whole-heartedly from it. (The first scene between Bardem and Craig is arguably one of the best in the film: one part torture sequence, one part comedy double act).

   Mendes’ direction should also be applauded as he conducts the major action sequences with aplomb: they are taught, rippling with verve and energy, and that hardness and viciousness that was ever present in “Casino Royale” makes a welcome return in “Skyfall”: every punch is felt as the wind is knocked not only out of the characters, but the audience as well. Mendes also handles the character moments with aplomb, as one would expect of a director of his caliber, and he is aided by Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who is for all intents and purposes, the real aesthetic star of the film creating beautiful and startling frames of film that gives the correct flair and ambiance of a film of this scale. (His use of the artificial light of the advertisements that line the buildings in Shanghai is absolutely exquisite.) Purvis, Wade, and Logan’s script is also full of loving references to the series past and indeed becomes the major thematic push of the film’s final third, including a “cameo,” if one may use that word for such a wonderful appearance by an old friend, that sent the audience that I was partaking the film with, myself included, into ripples of appreciation.

   Yet, with such a superb film, I suppose there must always come some minor issues that do not necessarily plague the film but certainly must be discussed, mainly in the form of the main title sequence and the film’s eponymous theme performed by Adele, which is not exactly my cup of tea, if I may be allowed to indulge in such a cliché. Whilst I am not what one may call a “fan,” I do certainly respect Adele’s talent and her terrific vocal range that I felt was squandered in the song while the main title sequence just really was not up to par. (I may be alone in that sentiment, I understand, but I digress.) The film’s score, composed by Thomas Newman, is nothing to write home about either, even with the snippets of the classic Bond that appear during typically “Bond” moments throughout the piece. These are ultimately though minor squabbles and should not be blown completely out of proportion, especially considering the quality of the rest of the final product.

   In the end, “Skyfall” is a triumphant return to form for 007, a film that absolutely encapsulates everything that a Bond film should be and more, a love letter to the franchise that is without question still, after 50 years, 23 films and six actors, wonderfully and delightfully intrinsically British to its core.

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