Skyfall – film review by Ian Johnston

Skyfall (2012) PG-13
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace

The new James Bond film receives its general release on 26th October 2012, however Louder Than War’s Ian Johnston was lucky enough to be one of the first to see last night. Here’s his review.

After Martin Campbell’s triumphant restart of the Bond franchise with the magnificent Casino Royale in 2006, followed by the mostly disappointing, aimless Marc Foster 2008 sequel Quantum Of Solace, there has been a long four-year wait, amid much studio legal wrangling, for the next James Bond picture. Marking the 50th year of the Bond film series, director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins and star Daniel Craig, now unquestionably the best 007 since Sean Connery, ably backed by an exceptional supporting cast and crew, have remarkably taken the 23rd picture in the longest running franchise in film history forward once again.

The plot by series veteran writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with newcomer John Logan, might not always really hold together as tightly as it should, there is a distinct lack of sex (Bond only has one soft focus sexual encounter in a shower and an unseen affair with a beach girl), the totally unmemorable score by Thomas Newman is certainly no substitute for previous 007 soundtrack writer David Arnold, let alone the late, great John Barry (who played such a pivotal role in the success of the franchise), yet Skyfall delivers with greater emotional weight, deeper characterisation, astonishing action sequences and sly humour (lacking from previous Craig Bond films). Skyfall, perhaps emulating Ian Fleming’s 1955 novel Moonraker (the only Bond novel to be exclusively set in the UK) and the Bond creator’s family history, wisely brings 007 back to his home in London and Scotland for much of this milestone picture.

The film commences predictably enough with a spectacular pre-credits sequence – one of the finest in the entire series. Bond (Craig), assisted by field agent Eve (Naomie Harris, making a very convincing ‘Bond girl’, in the Diana Rigg mold) embark upon a motorcycle and jeep chase through the jammed streets of Istanbul, climaxing in a thrilling fight on top of train with an assassin who has stolen an MI6 hard-drive containing the identities of all undercover agents embedded within terrorist groups around the world. This encounter does not appear to end well for Bond.

Cue the Bond credits, accompanied by Adele’s and co-writer Paul Epworth’s marvellously resonant title song (surely the greatest Bond theme in the last 30 years), which suggest the different, darker tone that Skyfall will evince: headstones, graveyards, knifes, blood, Bond shooting out mirrors in an obvious nod towards Orson Welles’ Lady From Shanghai.

Bond becomes a beach bum for a while, after a very close shave with death, boozing (007 drinks lager: Ian Fleming is now spinning in his grave at the one glaring product placement in the film) and carousing for months. When MI6’s London building explodes in a cyber terrorist attack, Bond reports back for duty to M (Judi Dench), who is being asked awkward questions about her competence to lead the secret service by ominous intelligence and security committee chairman Gareth Mallory (the ever marvellous Ralph Fiennes). British agents are being exposed and killed due the leak of the hard-drive and MI6, on a war footing, relocate to a new underground location in London.

To find out who is responsible for the high-tech cyber attacks, in what now seems to be a personal vendetta against M, Bond is dispatched to Shanghai, with Eve as back up. Eventually 007 hooks up with the glamorous but deadly and emotionally damaged Severine (Berenice Marlohe, another definitive Bond woman), who will lead him to M’s nemesis, Silva (Javier Bardem). Bardem’s simultaneously playful, sinister and even camp performance is one of the many highlights of Skyfall, and his spy turned villain automatically becomes one of the ultimate Bond adversaries. Physically imposing, sporting a shocking mop of dyed blond hair (even eclipsing Christopher Walken’s hairstyle in A View To A Kill), Bardem is by turns vicious, amusing, ruthless and utterly deranged. Though it might be somewhat hard to envisage this character as a cutting edge technical wizard, he is definitely a funhouse twisted mirror image of Bond and therefore a truly formidable foe, totally consumed by hatred and vengeance.

Ultimately, with M feeling that MI6 is totally compromised, she puts all her trust in Bond, who plans a showdown with Silva in a remote area of the Highlands of Scotland, a region Bond knows only too well. Armed only with shotguns, nails and knifes (“sometimes the old ways are best”), with assistance from the elderly but resourceful Kincade (a brilliant turn by Albert Finney as a bearded Scottish gamekeeper – the phrase “Welcome to Scotland” will never sound the same again), they prepare for an apocalyptic showdown with Silva.

Whereas Quantum Of Solace was far to short, at 2hours and 20 minutes Skyfall might be too long and cyclical in places, but with superior acting from all concerned, a new Q (the MI6 weapons and technology expert now played as a very young, sharp nerd by Ben Whishaw), the return of the Aston Martin DB9 at a critical juncture and the playing of John Barry’s evergreen arrangement of the Monty Norman theme, this picture does do justice to the venerable Bond series. ¬Most important of all, Daniel Craig now utterly possesses this role and can play it for as long as he desires. Most important of all, Daniel Craig now utterly possesses this role and can play it for as long as he desires. With Craig at the helm, Bond is definitely in safe hands.

Skyfall is released on 26th October 2012

All words by Ian Johnston. More Louder Than War articles by Ian can be found here.

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