Review first published 27/10/12
Following a failed assignment in Istanbul which sees an encrypted hard drive with the identities of NATO deep cover agents being stolen, British Intelligence agent James Bond is assigned to find out who has possession of the drive and get it back. Along the way, his loyalty to M is called into question as ghosts from her past come back to haunt her and MI6 is under siege from forces outside and within.
As somebody who has seen all 22 EON Bond films prior to “Skyfall”, I have to admit that I was disappointed with the previous entry to the canon, “Quantum Of Solace”. Even upon seeing the excellent trailer, there was a nagging doubt at the back of my mind as to whether this would be another “Casino Royale” or another “Quantum”. I shouldn’t have worried as Sam Mendes has delivered not only the best James Bond film in Daniel Craig’s tenure in the role, but probably THE best James Bond film… period.
Taking a cue from “Royale”, Mendes and regular scripters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade along with John Logan (“Gladiator”) has kept up making a Bond film where there’s a personal stake for 007 and those around him.
Daniel Craig goes from strength-to-strength as James Bond. Gone is the “green” agent that you saw in the first two Craig films and you now get a more seasoned Bond. He is still the ruthless and merciless hunter that was seen in “Royale” and “Quantum”, but the character is now portrayed as a damaged man, not only physically as you see the aches and pains from previous missions starting to catch up with him but mentally as well as you see a man who has to live with the demons of his job and his pre-MI6 past. Yes, he can handle the action as with the previous keepers of the role, but it’s what lies under the surface that makes Daniel Craig’s interpretation all the more interesting and I hope that he continues in the vein.
Judi Dench reprises her role as M and even though she’s seven films into the part, she still finds new things to do with the role. Dench still shows the cold hearted “evil queen of numbers” as she was called in “GoldenEye”, but she has to portray M in the political arena as she finds the MI6 organisation under attack – not only from the villain of the film but from the politicians within the Government who believe it to be as much a “relic of the Cold War” era as when M used that withering put down to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in “GoldenEye”. However, like Daniel Craig, Dame Judi really comes up trumps when M has to confront her own personal demons – significantly when she has to confront the villain, Silva. In addition to this, she continues in making her partnership with Craig a three dimensional one as she invests the M/007 relationship with a warmth that she doesn’t see him as just another agent that can be disposed of whenever the need suits, even though she doesn’t hesitate in authorising Eve’s “kill shot” which injures Bond at the beginning of the film plus the pair gets some nice banter throughout and there is a particularly touching scene later in the film which goes into Bond’s personal background along with why that makes him a suitable candidate as a “00”.
As in all Bond films, it’s only as good as the villain and notwithstanding the acting which is usually top notch, sometimes the Devil has not always had the best tunes. I mean, sometimes you get the great villains like Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger, Donald Pleasance’s interpretation of Blofeld and Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre… and then you get the more forgettable ones such Curd Jurgens role as Stromberg in “The Spy Who Loved Me”, Robert Davi’s portrayal of Sanchez in “Licence To Kill” or Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Green in “Quantum” – all great actors, but their antagonists are a little lacking when you stack them up against the real classic Bond villains. I’m pleased to say that with Javier Bardem in the role of Silva the Devil has been working overtime creating a damn good tune for him.
Silva’s purpose isn’t to rule the world or steal millions (or billions, if you consider inflation) of dollars. His is a personal vendetta, specifically against M, but he isn’t concerned who gets injured or killed in the crossfire as long as he can achieve his aims. However, Bardem gives the role the charm of one of the classic Bond villains and has a definite presence on screen both physically and personality wise. You do get transfixed by Bardem in the role and definitely pushes both Daniel Craig and Judi Dench to up their already respective “A games” to a new level to match him.
Another person who pushes certainly Judi Dench’s considerable acting muscles is Ralph Fiennes in the role of Gareth Mallory. Mallory is the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, in effect M’s boss, and the person who is pushing M in the political arena and Fiennes gives the role sufficient gravitas to be a credible threat to M and MI6 in its current form, certainly once the damage regarding the hard drive loss becomes apparent.
As with any Bond film, there has to be the “Bond women”. Both of the actresses who fulfill this role get significent roles albeit with very minimal screen time as this is really a film where Bond himself and M have the main focus.
Naomie Harris features in the high octane start of the film in the role of MI6 field agent Eve and I don’t think it’s a real spoiler as it features as a key point in the trailer that she is responsible for taking the “kill shot” that leads to Bond taking on a Missing Presumed Dead status. Harris gives Eve a strength in her character where she can take on the murky world of field work with a wit that matches Bond.
Berenice Marlohe as Severine is Bond’s one and only sexual partner in the film, but I wouldn’t even really classify her as a partner in the sense of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in “Royale” as Bond only uses her to get to Silva. However, Marlohe invests the character with the same style of tragic nature as Vesper and certainly fits the same mould as the character of Vesper.
After an absence of two films, “Q Branch” is back. Following the footsteps of John Cleese, Peter Burton and the late, great Desmond Llewellyn, Q is now portrayed by Ben Whishaw. Now, some people may be concerned that somebody of the age of 31 may be too young to take on the key role of Bond’s gadget man, but Whishaw is certainly up to the challenge as he invests Q with a dry humour which sparks off Daniel Craig, an example being when Bond complains about the lack of gadgets to which Q states that the Q Branch of the 21st century don’t make things like exploding pens any more.
As this film has been released in the 50th anniversary year since Dr. No appeared at the cinema, there is a celebratory feel to the film. However, this does not swamp the storyline as not only do you get the classic motives such the “Bond… James Bond” line or the return of the Aston Martin DB5 but you get a real tangible plot strand which looks into Bond’s personal past which informs his personality and behaviours in the present.
As I said at the start of my review, from a personal level this is the best James Bond film that I’ve seen as you get to see more of the man beneath the gloss whilst keeping the best elements of a tried and trusted formula – something of a miracle given that the project was suspended a period of financial troubles for main studio backer MGM.
Carly Simon sang the Bond theme “Nobody Does It Better” back in 1977 and, given this film’s performance, it’s going to take a brave director to try and beat the bar raised by Mendes and the 007 team.