Saturday, April 20, 2013

Skyfall (2012)

Director: Sam Mendes                                   Writers: Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
Film Score: Thomas Newman                        Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes

After the disaster of the Timothy Dalton years the James Bond franchise was brought back to life by Pierce Brosnan, who had been angling for the role ever since his days on Remington Steele. Unfortunately he only made four films. But Daniel Craig is an excellent Bond, more in the mold of Sean Connery rather than the effeminate Roger Moore. There’s no dearth of action, as the film begins in the middle of a pursuit, a fantastic motorcycle chase on the rooftops of Istanbul, ending on the top of a moving train. The rather unexpected termination of the chase is followed by a classic James Bond title sequence, with Oscar winner Adele singing the title song of Skyfall.

The plot begins with the attempt to get back a stolen computer file, listing all of the NATO agents imbedded in terrorist organizations around the world. The problem? NATO doesn’t know the list exists, and if the organization who stole the list uses it to assassinate the operatives, it could be very embarrassing to MI6, who lost the file in the first place. But no fear, Craig and Judi Dench are on the hunt. Since the Prime Minister knows about the stolen file, she has her assistant, Ralph Fiennes, pushing Dench into early retirement. Craig, disillusioned and tired, feels that retirement is looking pretty good himself. But duty calls and there is no time for introspection, let alone pity.

Lest we get carried away, it’s important to remember that this is an action picture. Skyfall is not great cinema, but it doesn’t have to be. There is almost no character development, because James Bond needs none. This particular chapter is focused on Dench, who has played M in seven Bond films. In this one her past comes back to haunt her in the form of former agent Javier Bardem. There is a mildly interesting psychological aspect to the film in the way that Bardem and Craig are symbolic siblings, rivals for their mother’s attention and angry at her for seemingly maternal indifference. Ralph Feinnes, who would seem an odd choice for a small role, nevertheless becomes vital by the end of the picture. It’s also great to see Albert Finney as serious and very capable as an old man.

In addition to the award for best song, Skyfall won another Academy Award for best sound editing. Though how you distinguish that from sound mixing, or distinguish that particular skill in a film at all, is a mystery to me. Still, two Oscars are more than a lot of other films won. This is only Craig’s third Bond film, but one hopes that he’ll be around for a few more. Skyfall is a worthy addition to a franchise that still shows a lot of vitality some fifty years later and, unlike its characters, with no signs of slowing down.

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