Dir. - Sam Mendes
On the evening of Saturday, December 1st 2012, at roughly 6:35 PM, my friend and I tried to catch the 6:50 showing of Skyfall at the United Artists Theater on Court Street in Brooklyn. There was a long line outside the theater, but the show was not yet sold out. As we approached the front of the line, it sold out. We were able to get tickets for the next night's showing at 6:50. Skyfall had opened on November 9, 2012. Perhaps it is unsurprising that it was still selling out by this point (indeed this is a major movie theater in Brooklyn) but it may also indicate just how good of a film it is. It was fortunate that we were able to get good seats on Sunday night at about ten minutes before the start time. It would have been fantastic to see it on an IMAX screen too, but that is not so affordable to us at this moment. Regardless, if you have the opportunity to see Skyfall before it leaves theaters, I highly suggest you do so--the film demands viewing on a big screen.
As previously noted, my knowledge of James Bond is not so great but for my editing of the reviews of my colleague Jay Maronde, who suggested this project for Flying Houses. Indeed today marks the apotheosis of the Project, and I can only write credibly about the last three Bond films. I loved Casino Royale and found Quantum of Solace inscrutable. So the only question I can answer is, where does Skyfall rank amongst them?
It is certainly better than Quantum of Solace. My colleague Mr. Maronde may disagree with me on that score (I have yet to edit--or even read--his review of Skyfall but I presume it cannot bypass its predecessor in his mind since he stated it was the best of the Bonds), but this film is much easier to follow, longer, more epic, and more star-studded. Casino Royale is great--but Skyfall is better. It is the best Bond film I have seen and indeed I remarked to my friend that it should be the last Bond film (though it will not be) because I think it is, frankly, impossible to top.
Okay, maybe the song "Skyfall" by Adele is not the best theme song in the Canon and that is one area where the Franchise could improve ("Another Way to Die" or "Die Another Day" or "The World is not Enough"--amongst others--were better...) but it's still a pretty good song.
The pre-credits sequence involves another fantastic chase sequence--notably on motorcycles over the rooftops of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and then on a train where Bond commandeers a.tractor-trailer to demolish Volkswagen Bugs and bust through another train car for entrance. And the final shot of the sequence may come as a shock to audiences. Of course they will not be tempted to believe the filmmakers would actually do that, but it is a powerful moment nonetheless. This was one of the few moments in the film I found confusing--that is, the explanation for it later--but it cannot besmirch the inherent perfection of the rest of the film.
This is a difficult film to review because one is wary of giving away too much of the plot. All I will say is that, when I would tell friends that I was going to see Skyfall, they would all respond, "Enjoy it--it's great." Everyone seems to have seen it (this review may be pointless - but I have my duties). Another friend compared it, interestingly, to The Dark Knight Rises. I can see that. Both are very long (though Skyfall is shorter by a good twenty minutes) and deal with the idea of the film's hero "losing a step." Also the villains are perfect "foils." Both have incredible stunts and special effects and explosions and acting and directorial prowess--but Skyfall is better than The Dark Knight Rises (I would say Skyfall and The Dark Knight are equivalent in terms of greatness--thus I believe this film deserves to be nominated for Best Picture). At the very least, Dame Judi Dench and Javier Bardem deserve to receive nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Dench might even qualify for Best Actress as this is M's biggest role yet - but many might disagree about the "requisite centrality to the film" component of that award).
Craig is as good as ever, playing a Bond ravaged by alcohol and substance abuse, who may not be up to the task this time. Of course we know better than that, but Bond does make his share of mistakes in this story. As my friend remarked, the girls always seem to end up getting killed....
Bond goes from Istanbul to a Caribbean island (or perhaps some other similar locale) to London to Shanghai to Macau and then to another mysterious island, then back to London and finally to Scotland. All of these scenes are great, but the best scene in the film is Javier Bardem's entrance. Indeed this was the one part of the film that you can tell, from being in a sell-out theater, that the audience loves.
Sam Mendes is most famous for directing American Beauty. The legacy of that film I think shows that it benefited most from really good timing--it was the right sort of movie to win Best Picture in 1999. So maybe Mendes was just in the right place at the right time, but it shouldn't take away from his skill as a director. Road to Perdition was, okay, not a total bore, but nowhere near as compelling. I did not see Jarhead or Away We Go though both are based off works of semi-creative-non-fiction. Revolutionary Road was something of a return to American Beauty territory, but I found it just "okay" also. (To conflate the stars of those films and the eras they depicted, I preferred Catch Me if You Can to that...). So I would say Skyfall is his best since American Beauty. But to continue....
Bardem's entrance is a long shot. Bond is tied to a chair and the elevator door opens up from the end of a cavernous room filled with a massive collection of computer networking wires. Bardem walks out and delivers a long monologue about how his grandmother owned a small island and how they figured out to get rid of the rat infestation problem there. There is a very slow pan until Bardem is, basically, on top of Bond. As I said this is a tough film to review because I am wary of spoiling it but I will just say that the dialogue in this scene is probably the most priceless dialogue I have heard in any Bond film, or almost any film at all. In particular, when Craig responds, "What makes you think this is my first time?" there was a huge roar of laughter.
My colleague has stated that Bardem may be the greatest Bond villain ever, and I cannot disagree. He is strangely gentle, but he has a serious motive. He is extremely clever but sometimes acts astonishingly irreverent (as during the chase sequence in the Tube Station in London).
Albert Finney makes a great appearance in the film for the final act--which is quite emotional and moving. Ralph Fiennes also turns in a quality performance as a British government official "advising" M. whose trustworthiness or "understanding of what it's like to be in the field" remain a question mark through most of the film. Naomie Harris as the "main Bond girl" Eve also plays a good sidekick to Bond in a few scenes and emerges in the final scene as a familiar character we thought might have gone away but whose past has just been re-imagined (and whose future may indeed be different). Unfortunately Jeffrey Wright does not appear as Felix Leiter but one imagines he may return....
Whatever happens at the Oscars next year, Skyfall deserves to go down as amongst the very best in the history of Bond films. Of course I need to see about 20 more to make that claim credible, but I would be quite surprised indeed if hardcore Bond fans did not all put it in the top 5, if not the top 3, or #1.