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At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Skyfall “2012”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Spy/ Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Albert Finney, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory/Runtime: 143 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to start this review by saying that at the time the movie I am reviewing for you today, 2012’s Skyfall, came out world-famous spy James Bond seemed to be at a bit of a cinematic crossroads. This is because not only had 2008’s Quantum of Solace not done all that well, but franchise home MGM had declared bankruptcy, and above all people were really questioning whether or not the famous superspy could still be a relevant fictional entity in the realm of cinema. As such, there was a LOT riding on this movie to work even somewhat remotely well. Thankfully, I can say the faith that was placed in this film was definitely worth it. I say that because sure there might be a few minor quibbles here and there, but by and large Skyfall is a complete and utter cinematic home run. Indeed the work behind the camera is phenomenal, the work in front of the camera is on point, and the result is not only one of the best movies of 2012 let alone of the Bond saga of films, but also one that shows the most famous cinematic spy can evolve with the times and prove to be just as timely and relevant as ever.

The plot is as follows: Skyfall gets its riveting story underway as we catch up with our favorite superspy in the middle of a mission in Istanbul. It seems that a computer hard drive containing the identities of every single undercover operative has just been stolen by a mercenary named Patrice who is working for someone else to obtain the drive for schemes of a nefarious nature. Yet despite their best efforts we see in a shocking turn of events that not only are Bond and his junior partner on the case unsuccessful in recovering the drive, but Bond is also accidentally shot off a moving train during a scuffle for the hard drive and believed to be dead. Three months later and to say M and MI6 are suffering some pretty hefty blowback from the mission is a bit of an understatement. In fact, M is not only facing a public inquiry by the British Prime Minister over her handling of the whole affair, but she is also being not so subtly coerced into retiring her post by a man named Gareth Mallory who is the newly appointed chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Things soon go from bad to worse however when, whilst stuck in traffic after her first meeting with Mallory, M is left to watch in horror as MI6 is hacked and subsequently blown up by the enigmatic mastermind behind the theft of the hard drive three months prior with 6 agents inside losing their lives. Meanwhile we see that *surprise surprise* Bond is not dead and in fact has been enjoying life off the grid on a remote Mediterranean island where his day to day seems to be made up of enjoying the company of women and drinking until the sun comes up in equal measure. Of course, when he hears of the attack on MI6 we see our favorite superspy quickly make his way back to London so he can get back in the game and catch this villain at all costs. Thus can Bond, despite not being nearly as on-point as he used to be, follow the trail to the madman at the heart of this dastardly plot and put an end to his schemes or is this one mission that might just be too impossible for even 007 to handle? That I will leave for you to discover dear reader…..

Now behind the camera, I will point out that every single department is absolute aces. This starts with film helmer Sam Mendes and he proves to be a brilliant choice to be at the helm of this film. This is because yes this Bond film may have the action beats that one comes to expect from a film starring 007, but this also is one that is supposed to have a pretty hefty dramatic element to it courtesy of the more melancholic than usual narrative. Yet it is in such narratives that Mendes has succeeded at working with in such efforts as American Beauty, Jarhead, Reservation Road, and (especially) 2002’s highly underrated gangster film Road to Perdition. Of course when it comes to the action beats that are in this movie, Mendes also manages to showcase a talent for filming those as well in a way that will make you feel like you are right there with Bond in the thick of things. Suffice it to say it is a wonderful directorial effort and a terrific addition to Mendes’ filmography as well.  Now as much as an assist it is for this slice of cinema to have Mendes at the helm, it is also a huge positive to have master cinematographer Roger Deakins working alongside him in absolutely beautiful synchronicity. I say that because this slice of cinema might take us to quite a few different places at distinct points of time during the day and with varying weather conditions to boot this slice of cinema consistently looks lovely. Indeed be it inside a gorgeous yet with just the right hint of danger gambling establishment in the locale of Macau, a desolate yet giant island town that the bad guy has all to himself due to tricks he pulled to cause everyone else to flee, the chaotic streets of rush hour London, or even the fog a’plenty countryside of good ol’ Scotland, this whole film is brilliantly shot and captured so we can always be able to tell what is going on at any given point in time. A feat that also extends to the delightfully mad cap and highly kinetic action beats which all, from the incredible opening motorcycle pursuit on top of the rooftops of Istanbul onward, look downright riveting to say nothing of ones that will leave you on the edge of your seat in the best way possible. Heck there is even a sequence that feels like a visual throwback to the jaw-droppingly beautiful late night oil field bit in Jarhead that proves to be even more spine-tingling thanks in large part to the performances involved. Suffice it to say I have always enjoyed Roger Deakins’ work in movies such as 1917, Sicario, and especially Blade Runner 2049 to name but a few examples and suffice it to say that his work in this is definitely no exception. Finally, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the opening theme of the film which I felt was beautifully written and performed by Adele. Indeed I know that there have been several Bond themes that have become instantly iconic like Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”, Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger”, and Tina Turner’s “GoldenEye” to name a few. Suffice it to say that this is one theme that definitely has earned a spot on that list. Not just because it’s beautifully performed, but because it is one of the most appropriate songs for a Bond film in some time due to being a brilliant mix of heart wrenching and melancholic, but also rousing all rolled into one. Suffice it to say that the work behind the camera is very much the work of a group of fantastic professionals all operating at the pinnacle of their talents.

As phenomenal as the work behind the cameras turns out to be, so too is the absolutely fantastic cast that has been assembled in front of the camera as well. Indeed I’m not kidding dear reader: every single person in this cast, no matter how big or small their role in this may be, brings no more and no less than their absolute A-game to their respective part. This starts *of course* with Daniel Craig as Bond and this is easily one of his best turns as the character in his already legendary 4-film run as the character. Indeed not only is this the suave and charming spy you remember from films past, but Craig also manages to retain the vulnerability and rough-around-the-edges manner that really did distinguish his take on Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale. Yet besides those things, we also see that Craig manages to bring something fairly unique to his take on Bond in this go-around and that is very much a vibe familiar to a wounded animal. Indeed this is a version of Bond who, for quite a bit of this movie, is very much not in synch with the world around him due to both being injured and off the clock so to speak for three months, but also because he’s not in the right headspace to say nothing of the fact that his relevancy is consistently being challenged by seemingly everyone around him. Yet, as wonderfully personified by Craig, Bond shows that he is still able to do what he does on the level that he does because he is a man who possesses an almost supernatural dogged determination to see the mission through whatever the cost. Suffice it to say that it is an absolutely incredible performance by an actor who, through his 4-film arc, is easily one of the finest portrayers of this iconic character we have ever had. Of course, as touched on previously, a spy movie’s hero can be phenomenally performed, but if the portrayal of the villain is not on the same level then people will still walk away a wee bit disappointed. Thankfully, this slice of spy cinema gives us one of the finest Bond villains of all time in the form of Raoul Silva who is brilliantly performed by Javier Bardem. Indeed, as portrayed by Bardem, the character of Silva is a perversely comedic, highly flamboyant, and yet legitimately terrifying antagonist who not only has a legit axe to grind that I shan’t spoil here, but that is also a fairly three dimensional villain who you actually think for a large chunk of the film might prove to be successful in what he is trying to pull off. Yet rather than having him be present from frame one and thus run the risk of cheapening the character and his actions, the film makes the brilliant creative choice to keep him in the shadows for over an hour of the runtime. As a result, when we finally see him in the flesh we are already afraid of him simply based off what we have heard about him and what we have seen that he is capable of.  Indeed make no mistake dear reader this character is easily one of the best antagonists in a Bond film ever and props must be given to Bardem for brilliantly bringing him to life. Of course, the third big performance worth mentioning is Judi Dench as M. Yes I know she had been doing this role since the beginning of Brosnan’s Bond tenure in 1995 with GoldenEye and the character had been around since Dr. No in ‘62, but this is the first Bond movie I have seen that makes M such an integral part of the narrative. Yes Dench’s M is still very much a stoic professional in this, but the film also does a wonderful job of allowing her some brief moments of humanity with Bond that show off hints of less a boss-employee bond and more of a slightly dysfunctional surrogate mother-son relationship instead and Dench is absolutely fantastic in every minute of the film she is in. Yet even when you factor in such wonderful efforts from everyone including Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, the always enjoyable Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Whishaw who is a pure delight as the new (and younger) yet no less snarky Q to name but a few of the aforementioned trio’s co-stars there is no denying that this is one cast who all bring their characters and through them the world of the film vividly to life in a way that makes them all seem like real people rather than fictional characters.

All in all I think it can’t be denied that the amount of impact that the time-honored character of Bond, James Bond has managed to have on the realm of cinema to say nothing of pop culture in general is so immersive that I am willing to bet that even if you are someone who (inexplicably and astoundingly) has never sat down and viewed one of the entries in this iconic cinematic saga you are very much aware of a few of the more iconic things about this character. I mean there’s the fact that he likes his drinks shaken not stirred, the fact that he is literally a god amongst men when it comes to seducing women, and the fact that he has a quip for any given situation when it comes to the disposal of bad guys worldwide. Oh and something about some really cool gadgets and a silver Aston Martin that he loves to drive that has some pretty sweet toys of its own. Suffice it to say that it is the elements that have made this suave member of the espionage community more icon than legend at this point. Yet perhaps the most intriguing thing about this iconic film franchise is that yes they’ve been making entries in this series for 6 decades now, but that the entries in their own unique manner have managed to evolve with the politics of the times to say nothing of the times in general. Suffice it to say that it is this self-induced policy of “evolve or fold” that is the remarkable and quite emotional message at the core of Skyfall and it is also a key component that helps to distinguish it from any of the Bond movies we had seen up to that point in time. Indeed in a world where a person skilled in technology can topple a government or accomplish a mission just as efficiently if not better than a team of boots on the ground then do you really need a guy rocking a Walther PPK? Indeed just as this movie shows us the answer to that question is a resounding absolutely, so too does this slice of cinema manage to prove that this long-running series can still be as timely as ever in the modern world. Suffice it to say the 50th anniversary of 007’s first big screen outing was undoubtedly celebrated in style back in 2012, but I definitely am of the belief that Sam Mendes and his phenomenal cast and crew on this slice of cinema might have given us the most on-point way to honor this legend. By that I mean they managed to make for our viewing pleasure one of the finest Bond movies ever made and in the process not only gave us a chance to remember all that we love about this superspy, but also a chance to look to this character’s future with a degree of excitement and hope that no matter what happens in this world we can always count on Bond, James Bond to keep us entertained for years to come. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Skyfall “2012” a solid 4.5 out of 5.

 

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