Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan (screenplay), Ian Fleming (books)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris
Release date: November 9th, 2012
Distributors: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures
Countries: UK, USA
Running time: 143 minutes
Best part: Roger Deakins’ cinematography.
Worst part: The underused Bond girls.
Celebrating 50 years of saluting Queen and country on the silver screen, the James Bond film series has capped off its anniversary in style. Continuing the rebooted timeline with the previous Daniel Craig led Bond films, Skyfall stands tall as a delicate yet authentic mix of old and new. In love with the ideology of the Bond series and Ian Fleming’s original material, the 23rd instalment may be looked back on as one of the greatest films in Bond history and one of the most enthralling action-dramas in recent memory. Skyfall is a smart, stylish and well-acted piece of true escapist entertainment.
Skyfallkicks off in beautiful fashion. After a chase through Istanbul streets leads to the loss of a valuable MI-6 hard drive and 007’s apparent death, M (Judi Dench) and fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) must take responsibility for MI-6’s regrettable actions. Bond (Daniel Craig), coming back from a well deserved holiday, is a ghost of his former self. Known to shoot first and sleep around later, his physicality and mental stability have been thrown off target. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for the British secret service, as M’s past comes back to haunt both her and the agency. The damaged yet protective Bond must now find the source of this harrowing terrorist threat, revealed in the form of former MI-6 agent turned intuitive computer hacker Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Between Shanghai, Macau and Scotland, MI-6 must stop Silva before his next horrifying act, while finding the psychological meanings behind Bond’s prickly demeanour.
Coming off of the thrilling Casino Royale and the sorely underrated Quantum of Solace (although clearly the weakest of the three), Skyfall provides a greater insight into one of cinema’s greatest series’. Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) is the only Academy Award winning director to ever helm a Bond film. His signature gritty style and melancholic outlook on humanity is ever present in Skyfall, creating an interweaving look at the dark side of Bond’s existence. At one point, Ralph Fiennes’ Character Gareth Mallory asks Bond the simple question “Why not stay dead?”. From that point on Bond succinctly sets out to prove himself, portraying a cynical yet still effective anti-hero character. With everything the common film-goer knows about the Bond series, Mendes and screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan develop a new perspective on the evolution of this ageing franchise. Bond’s existential outlook on technology, terrorism, corruption and human connection is the key to his successes. But to what extent is his professional side a positive? Craig proves to be the best 007 to date. His rugged features, cold tone and instant charisma deliver a necessarily harsh spy with a touch of heart. Dench continues her ever present fine form, delivering a strong performance as the out of time leader of MI-6. Credit also goes to Javier Bardem for his slimy turn as the homoerotic villain with a taste for revenge, continuing his run of villainous characters after No Country for Old Men and Collateral. A creepy mix of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Hannibal Lecter and the Joker, his frightening presence creates a sympathetic yet vicious Bond villain. The girls, though effective in shaking and stirring Bond’s psyche, are sorely underused.
Harris provides a dash of wit in a charming yet thankless role, while newcomer Berenice Marlohe simply stands around and looks pretty as a plot device. With the re-introduction of analyst and gadget-specialist Q, Ben Whishaw delivers a whimsical portrayal of one of Bond’s closest allies. The film is an eclectic mix of modernity and tradition. The Bond series strained with the silly yet occasionally enjoyable Moore, Dalton and Brosnan eras. Skyfall de-constructs the tongue-in-cheek elements of the previous Bond films such as the girls, guns, gadgets and globe-trotting. “What did you expect? an exploding pen?” Q says to Bond, as the witty banter throughout looks back at the notorious elements of an influential yet cyclical series. Constant references to other Bond films coupled with the Bourne series’ style of gritty-realism, Skyfall is a fitting entry into the already visceral and socially conscious Craig-Bond saga. The tragic aspects of Bond’s separation from a blood-stained yet seemingly enviable reality are similar to Mendes’ Road to Perdition and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga. Similarly to Bruce Wayne’s story of loss and redemption, Bond’s life as a troubled agent is expanded through his chilling and contemplative resurrection. The story deals with death and re-birth, symbolised imaginatively with a gothic and fluidly designed opening animated credit sequence. Bond and M are equally defining characters this time around, illustrating that both tradition and honour can have a relevant and unique impact in an advanced age of espionage. The mother/son relationship is defined to a greater extent, as their co-dependence gives them the motivation to complete this difficult assignment.
“Some men are coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.” (James Bond (Daniel Craig), Skyfall).
Craig & Bond’s signature Aston Martin.
The film serves to be a Rorschach painting for the audience, leaving everyone to create a new interpretation of cinema’s greatest spy. Continually changing the continuity of this franchise, the Craig-Bond era has created an earthy and vibrant re-iteration of a once declining series. Skyfall significantly benefits from Roger Deakins’ cinematography. A regular cinematographer for Mendes and the Coen brothers with such films as No Country for Old Men and Jarhead to his credit, Deakins creates a rich yet dulcet tone for each wildly different location across the globe. From the glowing neon lights of Shanghai’s cityscape to the concrete and maze-like exteriors of London, Bond’s mission is brought to life with a darkened touch. Deakins and Mendes also effectively capture the grisly identity of Bond. The use of both silhouettes and mirror images create an inner conflict within Bond himself; as a character establishing his own sense of place after previous failings. From the opening shot, Craig’s silhouette helps to create a truly imposing visage and charismatic presence. White the inventive silhouette covered fight atop Shanghai creates intense edge-of-your-seat thrills. The action sequences are effectively shot and choreographed, capturing several awe-inspiring moments within Bond’s dangerous missions. The exciting pre-credits chase through Istanbul creates a death-defying sense of scale fitting for its chilling resolution, while matching the intense Parkour chase in Casino Royale.
With Skyfall a worthy extension of the Bond universe, it should hopefully inspire the same level of ingenuity and depth in both future Bond instalments and modern action cinema. Thanks to the amicable cast and crew, this instalment stylishly honours the legacy.
Verdict: An affectionate and heart-thumping take on 007.
Writer: Steve Zaillian (screenplay), Steig Larsson (novels)
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard
Release date: December 20th, 2011
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures
Country: USA, Sweden
Running time: 158 minutes
Best part: The atmospheric direction.
Worst part: The twists.
Having only been two years since the release of the acclaimed Swedish adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) has used his gritty, low grade visual style and themes describing decaying humanity, to create an even more affecting and alluring version than the original.
In a case of journalistic integrity gone awry, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has been shamed, charged and fined after losing a libel case to a corrupt businessman. Trying desperately to clear his name while ignoring his recent downfall, he is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), retired CEO of Vanger Industries, to investigate the missing persons case of Vanger’s niece Harriet, who disappeared almost 40 years ago. With Henrik convinced that one of his extended family is responsible and with the possibility of incest and ritualistic murder, Blomkvist must use everything at his disposal to solve this case. Hot on his tail is the gothic yet vulnerable Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), hired to run detailed background check on Blomkvist. After discovering her intrusive behaviour, and unbeatable investigative and computer hacking abilities, he hires her to help solve the case and cases of other women murdered in the area. Tensions are raised between the two of them as both the investigation and their emotions reach boiling point.
In this quick-fire American remake of the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, Fincher injects his themes and visual style into this story of graphic depictions and emotional explorations. His decayed look at murder from a psychological perspective and the world of investigative journalism is reminiscent of his earlier work; in making the viewer both disgusted and intrigued at the same time. The sparse lighting, bleak colour pallet; featuring a particular use of green, and the grungy opening credit sequence accompanied by Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song make this recently adapted story a strong statement of Fincher’s creativity. Fincher directs the violence and rape scenes with a greater intensity than in the original. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoodelves deeper into the method behind the madness as we see the depths of the human psyche and its sometimes severe descent into hell. Fincher’s focus on the reactions of these atrocities delivers a greater emotional impact. The rape scene involving Salander and her handler is both thought provoking and disgusting based on its constant documentation of the emotions displayed. During the ordeal, the camera focuses to certain extent on Salander’s face, showing her as both a deeply scarred and tough personality. Despite some of the plot-twists becoming slightly anti-climactic towards the end, Fincher’s adaptation benefits from strong pacing, a gritty, creepy score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who also scored Fincher’s The Social Network), the beautiful cinematography capturing the cold, inhumane conditions of both the murders and the snow covered Swedish setting, and an extraordinary level of character depth.
“Hold still. I’ve never done this before, and there will be blood.” (Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
Unlike the original, in which both lead characters were interesting but still could have been defined to a greater extent, Fincher delves deeper into the state of affairs surrounding Blomkvist and his struggle to fit into present society after the trial, and Salander’s disturbed personality and anti hero status. Daniel Craig delivers another great performance, adding a lot of emotion through his facial expressions as well as his convincing delivery. While Rooney Mara delivers an oscar calibre performance that will be remembered as both a symbol of female empowerment and an individual going against the system in almost every way. Her frail physical structure covered in changing hair styles, bleached eyebrows, piercings, tattoos and black eye liner creates a distressing, alien look for Salander, adding to her lack of both normality and socially acceptable attributes more so than Noomi Rapace’s portrayal in the original. Her scene of physical torture upon her cantankerous handler is the focal point, showing a vengeance and lack of humanity reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Her revenge-fuelled fantasies and feminine charms, highlighted at the end of film, deliver a very damaged yet human portrayal. Her physicality and experimentation with sexual desires defining her inner angst makes Mara’s performance an absolute stand out.
Fincher having his chance to adapt this bleak and brutal material has worked. Despite copying many scenes from the original, he has still created an impressive work of art that rivals his other films. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the blackened world of conspiracy and malice has seen his characters conform to their own set of rules through their frightening actions.
Verdict: A visceral and enthralling american remake.