Film Review – Skyfall

A good friend of mine from high school may be the biggest James Bond fan in existence. I’m pretty sure his inner monologue has a backing score by James Berry. Back in the day, which really is only about ten years ago but let’s roll with it, I was one of those obnoxious kids who spent way too much time caring about film history and cinema. I wanted to make indie films and got to film school at UT and become the next Wes Anderson. My friend was equally well versed in obscure movies and we introduced each other to a lot of films we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Each of us had our own little niche that we loved but didn’t seem to fit into the pretentious pre-film school selections we protested that we loved so much. For me, it was old action films like Commando and Cobra. Stuff that couldn’t pass for an art film if it tried. I know I was supposed to think that if Michel Gondry didn’t direct it I shouldn’t enjoy it, but already I had started to move into the mindset that genre films have a lot to offer and it was what led me into discovering the old pulp stories and comics that put me on the path to writing fiction instead of trying to put everything on film. My friend, though he loved high art films as much as the next cinephile, was absolutely obsessed with James Bond films because his family had dual citizenship with the UK. This man was like a walking encyclopedia of knowledge containing the entire history of James Bond on film and we connected on some level because we both enjoyed the series so much, albeit for different reasons. I always liked James Bond because I thought it was the true successor to the serial adventure genre. Borne out of the cold war to bring a fresh look at a familiar archetype. It fit in with my love of action movies but was also something in and of itself that intrigued me.

Of course, then Die Another Day happened and both of us had to put the James Bond love into a deep dark hole because that shit was just embarrassing. Both of us could tolerate The World is Not Enough, Denise Richards; Nuclear Scientist aside. But the final Brosnan Bond outing to us was the equivalent of nipples on the Bat-suit. By the time Casino Royale came out and it was okay to love Bond again, my friend and I had drifted apart because college will do that to high school friends. But I imagine if we were talking about it right now we would be discussing whether Skyfall is Daniel Craig’s best Bond film or simply the best Bond film.

Skyfall is most definitely the best of Craig’s run. By a wide margin. I’ll discuss why in detail but the bullet points are that the direction, cinematography, editing, script, acting, and characterization are the best they could possibly be. Choosing Sam Mendes to direct and hiring Roger Deakins to film Skyfall is one of the smartest franchise moves ever made. Mendes is a prestige director. He knows his stuff. He cares about the story. Deakins could shoot a bowl of cereal for four hours and somehow make it the most striking, beautiful thing you have ever seen. The work he does in Skyfall is as good as his work has ever been. He certainly brought his A-game. The script is a major upgrade from Quantum of Solace, although that’s not saying much. What is saying much is that the story works better than Casino Royale because while the running time is about the same, Casino Royale had a tendency to drag because of the narrative structure. Skyfall has a classic sort of four-act plotting that blends within itself to tell a very smooth story. Craig is in top form here and gives us the most depth we’ve ever seen in Bond. Judi Dench gets to really dig in and give M some definition in a way the character has never had before, which just adds to how refreshing the film is on that level. And Javier Bardem is quite possibly one of the best villains of all time.

Javier Bardem is what makes so much of this movie work. He is a credible threat. He plays the character with a menace that has been lacking in Bond villains for quite some time. I think the last time we had a villain this effective he was played by Sean Bean. Bardem is going to go down as one of the most effective Bond villains of all time and there will be controversy surrounding his performance simply because of some of the choices made with the character. He is clearly a sociopath. He has gone made with rage and while his performance is equal parts subtlety and flamboyance, audiences may interpret him in a variety of ways. By now its no secret that in a moment of cat-and-mouse (or rat-and-rat) he makes intimidating sexual advances towards 007 that Bond rebukes by implying that it would be nothing new to him. This could swing viewers in any number of ways. Is Bond just showing off false bravado? Is he truly so sexually promiscuous that he’s been intimate with a man? Does it matter? The more frightening question is whether it is implied that Bardem’s sexual flamboyance is as a result of the trauma that turned him into a sociopath or if it was something previously existing. I know some people will have a field day with it, but honestly I see it as something where Bardem’s character knows what vibe he gives off and was trying to play mind games. It seems in line with his character, although I could just be making too much out of the issue. The fact remains that his performance is absolutely stunning and he has definitely left his mark on the series.

What I liked most about the film was how it equally serviced the lore and history of the franchise while at the same time doing things that have not been done before. The climax of the film is not something you will typically find in a Bond film. In fact, I would say that it was done in a manner that subverts the typical Bond climax and turns it on its ear. And it is in that climax that Roger Deakins really gets to shine. The shadows and light that are cast by the fire in total darkness are beautiful and it really gives the film a distinct look that no other film has matched. I really cannot gush enough about how well shot this film is and the fact that Deakins got to shoot one of the best Bond adventures in years only adds to it. If he had shot Quantum of Solace it may have looked amazing but I still would have been let down by the limp narrative.

To make a long review short, my opinion is that this is the best 007 film on record. It hits every mark it should. No other film nails it the way this one does. As far as I am concerned, Skyfall  is the perfect 007 film.

Happy 50th, Anniversary James Bond.


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