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Movie Review: "Skyfall" Best Action Film of the Year
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Naomi Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney
It's frickin' phenomenal!
Turning 50 this year, and with 23 films to its credit, the James Bond franchise reaches its pinnacle with this exhilarating and intelligent new entry. To say that Skyfall is perhaps the best Bond movie ever made is to understate what an achievement this movie is. In a year that has seen more than it's share of terrific action movies (Marvel's The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, to name a few), here is a film that works not only as an entertainment, but also as a testament to everything I love about the movies. By the time the end credits rolled, I was ready to get back in line and see it again.
Daniel Craig reprises the role he nailed to perfection back in 2006 with Casino Royale. That his work was criminally bland in the last James Bond movie, the dismal Quantum of Solace, is less his fault than it was director Marc Forster's, who didn't seem to have a clue what he was doing in that film. Now, Craig is under the guidance of American Beauty auteur Sam Mendes, and the result is one of the most fascinatingly complex portrayals of 007 ever put on film. He gets a lot of help from screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, who go in a little deeper into Bond's troubled past and how he suffered greatly from the loss of both his parents. While a solid script doesn't necessarily ensure a good performance from an actor, Craig brings back the charisma and fierce intensity he seemed to have lost in the last film, and the results are positively electrifying.
But if Craig is terrific in his role, then he is evenly matched by the deliciously nasty performance turned in by Javier Bardem. Right from his very first scene, Bardem oozes with menace and charm. He plays the bleached blond evil genius Silva, who has stolen a drive containing the secret identities of every MI6 agent. When the film goes into detail about his motives, it reveals a villain of many layers. Silva is not just another crazy villain bent on world domination. His motivations stem from deep wounds left over by none other than M (Judi Dench) herself. He's a well rounded and thoroughly compelling figure, and Bardem makes him one of the most chilling screen villains of recent memory (especially during an unusual homoerotic scene he shares with Craig).
Director Sam Mendes seemed like an unusual choice to helm a James Bond picture. Known mostly for his deliberately paced art films, Mendes doesn't really have anything on his resume that suggests he's capable of handling a big-budget action picture like this (Does Road to Perdition count?). Of course, sometimes the best choice is the one you'd least expect, and Mendes does some of his best work here as a director. While the movie is as deliberately paced as his other films, there is never a dull moment to be found anywhere in Skyfall. Even at 143 minutes, the movie is such a joyous and thrilling experience that you almost hate to see it end.
The action scenes are some of the best in the series. The opening segment, which starts off as a car chase through city streets of Istanbul and continues with Bond fighting an assassin on top a speeding train, gets the movie off to a crowd pleasing start. It features the requisite silly stunts we've come to expect from a Bond film (in one instance, Bond commandeers a Caterpillar, crushes VW Beetles on a flat car, tears open a train car, and runs down the front shovel of the machine and into the passenger loaded train car), and unlike the action scenes in Quantum of Solace, it's all filmed in crisp, clean shots, so that you can actually see the action while it's happening.
Of course, saying the action scenes are filmed in crisp shots is to understate just how beautiful the cinematography is in this film. With ace cinematographer Roger Deakins bringing his signature painterly style, Skyfall is almost unbelievably gorgeous. There is a segment in Shanghai where Bond engages in a fist fight with a cold-blooded assassin that almost has to be seen in order to be believed. The climactic portion of the film, which takes place at a run down Scottish mansion inhabited by the estate's colorful gamekeeper Kincade (a wonderful Albert Finney), features images of such awesome beauty that, had the sound been turned off, it still would have been enthralling. According to his Wiki profile, Deakins has been nominated numerous times for an Academy Award, but has never won one. If there is any justice in the world, he'll take home the gold next year for his work in Skyfall.
I do realize I haven't said too much about the plot. Maybe that's because there are so many praise worthy things that bear mentioning more than the plot, which you'll discover for yourself when you go and see the movie. Among the many pleasures offered in the film, we are finally introduced to classic characters from the series who were absent in the previous two films. They include the character Q (Ben Whishaw), who supplies Bond with a gun coded to his hand print (which leads to an amusing moment involving digitized Komodo dragons). There is also Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), M's new boss, as well as a new field agent named Eve (Naomi Harris), whose family name is revealed toward the close of the film (and I wouldn't dream of revealing what it is).
I loved Skyfall. Loved every thrilling, funny, gorgeous, dramatic second of it. I've always enjoyed watching James Bond movies, if only to have fun with their ridiculous action scenes and marvel at the gorgeous location work. They're all par for the course in a Bond picture, but I have never seen those elements incorporated in such an invigorating way like they are in Skyfall. 2012 has released more than its share of great movies, and Skyfall is up there on that list. Heck, just writing about it has got me excited about seeing it again.
**** (out of ****)
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