Friday, November 9, 2012

A Reel Review: SKYFALL


Understand this about SKYFALL, the latest 007 film in the Daniel Craig era; by the time this film ends, the James Bond that the world has come to know over the past 50 years will finally reveal himself, very much making Craig’s previous Bond films (CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE), prequels to the character. In the grand scheme of things it works, as further adventures of Craig’s British secret agent will now carry more weight and have more meaning. That will ultimately be the legacy of SKYFALL, but how does it fare as a movie…?
After a failed attempt by Bond (Daniel Craig) and his fellow agent Eve (Naomi Harris) to recover a hard-drive with the identities of all the secret agents spread out across the world, Bond is presumably killed and goes into hiding. The list has been stolen by Silva (Javier Bardem), an old friend from the past of the head of the British secret service, M (Judi Dench), who must now fight for her job and her life.

The plot of SKYFALL in the early goings is simple; recover the list of stolen identities before Silva can post them all on the internet, which would lead to many agents being exposed and killed. Director Sam Mendes, in his first Bond outing, is wise enough to not let that storyline serve as the real guts of SKYFALL. When M is threatened in her job and her life, Bond switches into a son protecting his mother (mum). The transformation practically happens on camera, and gives the film the needed and heart and weight for people to really care.
The film goes a level deeper with the arrival of new Bond villain Silva, whose connection to M makes for interesting character development for everyone. The contrast between Bond and Silva, M and Silva, and M and Bond nearly takes center-stage, and makes this a very unique Bond film in that the characters and what they have to deal with becomes more important than the old save-the-world-from-the-monologuing-bad-guy.

Mendes handles his Bond-verse with the experience of a director who has been 007-ing it for 50 years. The film is saturated in James Bond-lore, with plenty of winks and nods and in-jokes towards previous films. None of that ever distracts or derails the film, and Mendez also directs some outstanding action sequences (there is a motorcycle chase which has to be seen to be believed) which are spread out enough to keep things from turning into a headache.  Things are further augmented by the outstanding cinematography by Oscar-winner Roger Deakins. Deakin’s work with natural light, shadows and silhouettes make SKYFALL a beautiful film to look at, and without a doubt the best-looking Bond film ever made.
Daniel Craig really comes into his own as Bond here, giving all the charm, roughness and tender caring that the character needs. Javier Bardem is a great, flamboyant villain who takes some unexpected turns which could not have been pulled off by anyone else. He is unfortunately a little underutilized; appearing in only a handful of scenes. The show is nearly stolen by Judi Dench, whose M character is finally given something to do other than sit behind a desk. The supporting cast in the form of Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney is also excellent, as is the performance by young Ben Whishaw; Bond’s perfectly-casted new (Q)uartermaster.

The third act is preceded by an outstanding assassination attempt, which is so good it overshadows the eventual final battle, which feels a little drawn-out and tacked-on. That final sequence is a very much a departure from the rest of the film, but by its end its purpose is clear in several vital ways. Its impact is permanent and important, making SKYFALL not just a great James Bond flick, but more importantly, a great movie.

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