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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

November 14, 2012

Skyfall: The maturing of James Bond

M: Are you taking me hostage? 
James Bond: You could call it that. 

 
On Monday night, I saw Skyfall with my wife and a dozen-odd people scattered around the 300-seat auditorium. People were playing musical chairs, switching their designated seats with the empty ones for a better view. We stayed put in ‘E’ row from the rear: the view was clear. There were no latecomers after the credits had rolled or after the interval was over. The theatre was nearly empty and the twenty-third James Bond flick would've looked the same no matter where you sat.

Except for Bond, Daniel Craig’s third outing as the famous British spy. He is different in Skyfall, more vulnerable, more appealing, and more convincing than he is in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Much of it has to do with his boss M, the head of MI6, the British intelligence service, who casts a long shadow on Bond and everything he does in the film, and vice versa.

Bond’s mission is closely entwined with the safety of his commanding officer, played by Judi Dench in what is, unarguably, her best Bond film ever. Forget her previous six roles as M. Get a load of her in Skyfall.

007’s mission—to retrieve a computer hard drive encoded with classified details of undercover NATO agents in terrorist organisations—leads him to his nemesis, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a former MI6 agent turned rogue.

A rogue not of his own making, he says, rather forced to become one by M who let the Chinese have him for a few years. Silva, who sports golden hair and laughs in an insane way, comes back to avenge his incarceration and torture. He takes out a few MI6 agents, destroys a part of MI6 headquarters in London, and then comes after M, nearly killing her at an intelligence committee meeting.

Silva is M’s past and he is haunting her present. Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), a former lieutenant colonel in the British Army and Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, is forcing her, with political persuasion, to retire gracefully, because her computer system and her position in MI6 have been compromised. But the formidable M stays to fight Silva with her most trusted agent by her side.

Skyfall is as much about M as it is about James Bond. Director Sam Mendes gives M a wide berth in the film, as wide as the sweeping and breathtaking landscape of Scotland and its cloud-capped hills—the scene of the final battle between Bond and Silva that plays out in Bond’s family estate, Skyfall.

The destruction of Skyfall is reminiscent of the destruction of Wayne Manor in Batman Begins and you wonder how much of it influenced Mendes, especially since both Bond and Wayne were orphaned at a very young age. However, unlike Bruce Wayne who vows to rebuild his family home brick by brick, 007 looks back at his burning estate and mutters that he never much cared for it. He turns around and follows Silva who is following M into the dark night.

M never says so in any of her films but there are enough hints to suggest that James Bond is her favourite agent. Her concern for Bond’s well-being has been all too obvious in the previous six films. In Skyfall, M takes her strictly businesslike relationship with Bond to a new and personal level—that of a “mother” and her favourite “son” who swears to protect her with his own life. You know he’s doing a job he’s trained for, and die if necessary, yet you can’t help thinking there’s more to the two than an intel head and her most trusted agent.

If I were to describe Skyfall in one word, I’d say, as the British would say, bloody brilliant and if I were to rate the film on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a respectable 8. The film scores well on most aspects we have come to associate with a Bond film, right from the time the credits roll to a smorgasbord of kaleidoscopic colours set to a great theme song, Skyfall, by English singer Adele. Noted American composer and conductor Thomas Newman sustains the musical narrative of the film with some fine background score. Unlike in his previous two films, Craig’s Bond also delivers some notable one liners in this, a throwback to the days of Roger Moore.

An 8 out of 10 does not mean Skyfall has no shortcomings. There are plenty of those too. I’ll mention some.

One, the jaw-dropping fight scene between James Bond and mercenary killer Patrice on the roof of a speeding train somewhere in the Turkish highlands should mark out 007 as a superhero, which, in a way, he is, more so in the last few movies in the series.

Two, the blonde-haired Javier Bardem as Silva is far from convincing. In spite of the ominous nature of his mission, a terrorist plot against MI6 and its chief, Bardem fails to move you in the way that his Anton Chigurh does in No Country for Old Men. He talks too much and laughs too much though I have a hunch his villainous persona will pay off, especially among his fans.

And three, you wonder why James Bond whisks M away to his dilapidated hideout in Scotland with few weapons and improvised booby traps as his only defence against Silva and his men who are, intentionally, put on their tail. You’re thinking, “Bond, you could have taken M anywhere in the world!”

Skyfall may not be the best Bond film ever but it is the best of Daniel Craig’s three Bond films. A terrific entertainer.

8 comments:

  1. I thought Craig was very convicing in Casino Royale. Movie viewing is subjective, of course. Thanks for this review - I'll admit I skipped over much of it since I have yet to see Skyfall. The most interesting thing in this post is learning that in India movie theaters sell tickets with assigned seats! In the US there is no such movie theater. Anywhere you go in the country, you pay one price for the admission and get to sit wherever you want. Sometimes, however, I wish you could pick your seat and have it reserved ahead of time. It would take a lot of anxiety of out of arriving late and hoping two seats can be found together in a crowded theater.

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    1. John, I thought Craig brought a new feel to the Bond image in both his previous films, as did Brosnan before him. In SKYFALL, he takes that image further by putting on his thinking cap and assuming a quieter and wiser role for himself, a man of few words but enough courage to see him through.

      Movie theatres across India sell tickets with assigned seats, numbered seats in alphabetical rows. For instance, our seat numbers were E17 & 18, fifth row from the rear, a good distance from the wide-angle screen. In fact, we can even pick our seats on a screen facing us while booking tickets, depending on their availability of course. It was easier to get vantage seats for SKYFALL because the film is now in its second week and it is already running to near-empty cinema halls.

      If we had the US system of sitting wherever we want, there would have been riots in most Indian theatres! Thank god we don't.

      Meanwhile, online booking of tickets is fast catching up in India. In some cases, if you book in advance, the tickets are delivered to you at home or wherever.

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  2. I am definitely going to see this one.

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    1. Charles, I missed out watching CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE in the theatre and was determined to see SKYFALL in the cinema hall. I'm glad I did: makes a real difference watching a Bond flick on your television screen and on the wide screen, the background music and special effects for one. Bond takes you into a world of fantasy.

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  3. I thought it was the best one ever. I have been in several places in Europe where they had assigned seats. Northern England comes to mind.

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    1. Patti, SKYFALL is definitely a cut above its predecessors though the "best one ever" tag might differ among viewers. What I like about the new Bond films, besides the cutting-edge technology and special effects, is the cutting-edge direction as well. These films are more tightly scripted than before.

      I can't imagine watching a film without assigned seats. Here, in India, it would be a nightmare.

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  4. Really enjoyed the rview Prashant, I really liked this one, and I liked Craig in all of them (but then I quite liked QUANTUM too so consider me partisan). I think though that you might want to add a spoiler tag perhaps as you do give away most of the plot and even the meaning of the title, which is meant to be a a bit of a secret too!

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    1. Sergio, thank you for the kind words. I do agree that I have, in fact, given away more of the plot than I should have—I guess I just didn't know when to stop! A 'spoiler alert' wouldn't be a bad idea. On the other hand, I'm glad that I left out, intentionally so, a couple of crucial elements in the film that I'm not going to mention here. I recall liking QUANTUM OF SOLACE more than CASINO ROYALE though that'll always be open to debate, as will the other poser—Brosnan or Craig?

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