Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Review: Skyfall

Ah, James Bond films.  The source of so many dreams and fantasies over the years, and yet so many of the films are really not very good.  I'm unsure that I would feel any great loss if all the Roger Moore films were lost, nor for that matter the last two Pierce Brosnan films (Tomorrow Never Dies was the first Bond film I remember seeing and therefore is held with a special affection, regardless of it's actual quality).

This changed with Casino Royale, the last of the original Ian Fleming novels to be made into an official Bond film.  In the place of ridiculous invisible cars was a tighter sexier Bond film, more suited to the modern age.  However, the follow up to this glorious rebirth was the disappointing Quantum of Solace, which seemed to lack either the tight suspense of it's immediate predecessor or the ridiculous hijinks of the earlier films.  I must confess I remember very little of the film, other than being at the time disappointed that Gemma Arteton didn't get more screen time.

Which brings me to the latest offering - Skyfall.  Expectations have been running high for the film, and certainly it has been heavily promoted.  Personally, I was excited by the involvement of a "proper" director in Sam Mendes, alongside what is possibly the strongest ever cast for a Bond film, with Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem joining regulars Judi Dench and Daniel Craig.  

I'm pleased to say that for me, Skyfall not only met, but (for the most part) exceeded these expectations.  The movie opens with a well paced action sequence, that more importantly is well shot (unlike a lot of action films) so that one can easily tell what is going on.  This sets the tone for the rest of the film.  I cannot commend Sam Mendes highly enough for his choice of shots throughout the film. Each shot seemed to have been chosen with a care and attention to detail that is rare in so many films nowadays, and almost unheard of in a Bond film.

Equally matched is the story.  I will refrain from saying really any more  for fear of spoiling anyone's experience other than to say that it is utterly thrilling and suspenseful to the end. (This is my first ever review, and I'm terrified of revealing some crucial plot point by accident, so I'm just going to leave it there).

Much has been written about the performances of the lead actors, particularly Javier Bardem and his performance truly is brilliant.  It is no hyperbole to describe him as one of the best (the best?) Bond villans ever.  His opening piece (featured in some of the trailers) is amazing, one long shot as he walks slowly from the back of the room towards Bond (and the camera).  As he slowly comes into focus he tells this anecdote from his childhood about rats.  This monologue is so wonderfully done, not over played, but suitably creepy to maintain the tension.  The dialogue that follows with Bond still brings a smile to my face now.  At times he almost seemed to be channelling Heath Ledger's Joker, and I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.

Mention should also go to the performances of two supporting actors: Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw.  I'm a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, and he plays his part well.  I have a peculiar thing for his eyes - to me he seems to be able to convey so much in a single look, which I find utterly fascinating.  Ben Whishaw, marks the return of Q.  This however is a Q for the modern age, one more adept at computers and a complete (and I suspect self-confessed) nerd.  Q shows up the lighter side of this film, which is very enjoyable but, more importantly, still fits with the tone of the rest of the film.  He is also exceptionally good looking, if Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes and Javier Bardem wasn't enough for people.

There are two things for me that stop the film from reaching the true heights of greatness.  The first has been well covered, and that is product placement.  I'm not personally bothered by product placement, and the fuss that has been made over Bond drinking a certain brand of beer seems to be unwarranted.  At the point in the film when the product is featured, it is entirely appropriate that Bond isn't drink Martini's and it fits the film find.  However, there is one shot early on where Bond checks the time on his watch.  The camera then lingers for an excessive length of time on this watch.  From memory this is fairly close to the start of the film, and it just sticks out so inappropriately, that it stuck irritatingly in my mind for the rest of the film.  Other than one incident though, I don't think the product placement is a big issue, and certainly not as big as some people have tried to make it.

The bigger bugbear for me is the dialogue.  In a couple of scenes, and one in particular, the dialogue is really quite clunky and spoilt what were otherwise brilliant scenes.  The scene where this was most evident was a scene where Bond is sat at a bar with Sévérine.  At this point who Sévérine is, and what her motives are, and it's quite a tense scene.  The scene is beautifully shot and lit, and could have come out of Lost in Translation.  But.   The dialogue is forced and clunky, and sadly destroys much of the suspense in the scene. Having said this, a lot of the time the dialogue was of a very high standard, the first scene with Javier Bardem being a case in point, and there are some wonderful one liners, which I won't repeat here.  In comparison to previous Bond films the dialogue is certainly as good and (probably) superior.

Overall an excellent film and highly recommended.

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