November 9, 2012 (United States)
United Kingdom, United States (English)
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & John Logan
A flawless cast into a picturesque pond, "Skyfall" is Bond reborn and it has never looked better. The tale of this spy now resonates far beyond previous shallowness.
I have not seen a lot of Bond films (an unfortunate fact that I am working to rectify), but "Skyfall" is the best I have ever seen. The writers and director Sam Mendes have taken the predictable spy and given him an exquisite character portrait. We think we know this guy after 23 films in 50 years? Think again. Yes, this is something Martin Campbell did to a degree in "Casino Royale," Daniel Craig's first go as Bond, but we go deeper here than before.
After an accident in the thrilling mission that starts the film Bond enjoys some R&R while M (dame Judi Dench reprises her role), head of MI6, mourns the loss of her favorite agent. An unknown terrorist attacks the MI6 embassy and reveals the identity of several agents. And so 007 is lured back into action to pursue their only lead and the mission/film gets rolling. Champagne, a little gambling, and a broad or two are all part of the usual mix as Bond trails his target. He meets the Severine (played gorgeously by Bérénice Lim Marlohe) but this encounter plays out rather differently than "Bond girls" of the past. As they rendevoux at a bar we can see that she is absolutely terrified (she's shaken and stirred, not the drink) of something that we cannot see... yet. Her "employeer" is the one Bond seeks.
Javier Bardem may be the best onscreen villain since Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight." We are introduced to him in static long-take where he comes down in an elevator and tells our favorite spy a little story. His menace and madness is apparent in seconds and, like Bond, we can only sit there watching him. We are all tied up, transfixed at his charisma, his glee and awaiting an explanation. Every second on this guy's island left me stunned. This is when my expectations and predictions starting popping like balloons.
When you discover where the title comes from it is apparent where this film has been going all along: back to the beginning. Before "Skyfall" James Bond was simply a man who came from the shadows as the film's opening shot (above) suggests. The last third of the film begins to shed light on him as a man and sidesteps the series' conventions by going old-school in more ways than one. Some have criticized "Skyfall" for turning into an mindless action romp at the end. I see things very differently. A character tells us earlier on that sometimes someone is needed to fire a gun. There doesn't need to be an elaborate stunt to put an end to evil. Sometimes you just do what you can.
I found there to be abundant symbolism in the story's arc and imagery. I was not expecting anything like this in my "Bond film." Everything is strikingly photographed by Roger Deakins, one of our greatest living cinematographers. He has been working with the Coen brothers for years and this marks his third collaboration with Sam Mendes. A silhouetted fist fight on the top floor of a skyscraper in Shanghai to the wide and desolate expanse of Scotland. This is not a happy film, it's aching alongside a man who has faced a lot of trials over the years. "Skyfall" has elevated film's longest running series and has completely won me over in the process. This film deserves an in-depth analysis where I can speak plainly instead of vaguely, I hope I can do it that service.