Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Film Review - Skyfall

Agent Down! Agent Down! is the key repeated phrase crackling over the speakers at MI6 headquarters in the opening sequence of Skyfall the 23rd instalment of Ian Fleming's James Bond as Academy Award winning director Sam Mendes takes his turn at the helm of a Bond film.

Mendes who's credits include 1999's American Beauty which won Best Picture in the best year for movies since 1939 and the underrated Jarhead breathes new life into the series after the uneven Quantum of Solace which is more than likely in bottom 5 of any Bond aficionados list of Bond films.

This time out James Bond (Daniel Craig) returns from the dead to help as MI6's is under attack from an enemy that knows all of the organizational protocols, fail safes and is a master of computers, technology and digital devices. This adversary has stolen the confidential list of undercover agents and has threaten to post the names on the web.

At the same time M (Judi Dench) is under attack from the government and it's ministers for her handling of the spy agency. She is blamed for loosing the list and Government official Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is tasked to advise M that she has been extended the opportunity to retire gracefully which she refuses to do until the job is done.

Upon his return Bond undergoes a series of fitness, shooting and endurance tests needing to prove at his advanced age that he still has the ability to be a field agent. We met the new Q (Ben Whishaw) who  provides simple tools to 007 for this mission all the while mocking the extravagant gadgets of the past.

We also have the return of the classic bond girl in Severine (Berenice Marlohe) more exotic that than her locale, at ease with a cigarette in her hand, even easier on the eyes and english is definitely not her first language. Naomie Harris is also very strong as Eve a MI6 operative who can take out a bad guy, is as fast with a quip and double entendre as 007 and can slip into an evening gown when required.

In one of the all time Bond villain entrances Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) enters the scene from the far side of the room. He knows Bonds entire resume and operative history recounting as he enters a magnificent story about rats that has everything to do with the survival of the fittest. He even has Bond's evaluation scores which were a fail in every category.  This first face to face and literally hands on encounter with 007 is riveting. However Silva knows M even better that he does Bond and is looking to settle a long outstanding score with the head of MI6 branch.  

How to you gain the upper hand on a modern technology genius do the opposite and go low tech. Back to the basics back to the beginning where technology cannot be turned against you leaving a sophisticated trail of high tech bread crumbs to lure the adversary to you counting on his obsession with M.

Skyfall is very well written John Logan was added to the regular writing team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and the combination brought a return to the Classic Bond formula for this film. Logan who's extensive credits include Gladiator,  Any Given Sunday, Star Trek Nemesis, The Aviator and Hugo took the script in a new direction as Paul Haggis did when he was added to the writing team for Casino Royale. One of the best written sequences of the film is the approach and first few moments on Silva's Island a shell of a place that looks like it survived a nuclear winter. The passage shows what lengths Silva had to and would be willing to go to make something that he wants his.

Purvis and Wade can be hit and miss as their credits include The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day and the aforementioned Quantum of Solace adding two more to mosts bottom 5 list of Bond films.

Director Mendes delivers the right amount of action from the opening battle on top of a train in Istanbul to hand to hand combat on the top floors of a newly finished building in Shanghai, a chase through the streets, underground and tunnels of London and ending with a last stand in the rolling barren hills of Scotland. The action sequences don't overwhelm instead work in tandem with the story that Mendes tells so well.

Daniel Craig is excellent as the always well tailored but aging 007. Bardem is well cast as his foil with his bleached blond hair, relaxed, understated but deadly demeanour. Craig indicated that this would be his last go round as 007 however with the success that is Skyfall he can name his price to producer Barbara Broccoli to star in the next two scheduled films.

*** 1/2  out of 4

Skyfall |  Sam Mendes  | U.K. / U.S.A. | 2012 | 143 minutes.

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