Thursday, January 12, 2017

Short Take: Skyfall

Skyfall, the third of the James Bond films starring Daniel Craig, has a strong claim to being the best in the franchise's history. The film's starting point would seem to be a question: What if Stanley Kubrick had made a Bond movie? Director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and production designer Dennis Grassner certainly capture the Kubrick look. The picture is chock full of visuals in the style of the master filmmaker, including symmetrical shot compositions, the conspicuous use of amber in the color schemes, and the insistently cold, gray look of the British locations. The adventure set pieces have the Kubrick ambition; they seem out to top everything seen before in the Bond pictures. The opening sequence in Istanbul, which goes from the Grand Bazaar to a motorcycle chase across rooftops to a stand-off with an industrial digger aboard a moving train, may be the most brilliantly elaborate action scene in the entire series. The screenplay, credited to Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, is in the Kubrick spirit, too. The approach of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the two previous Daniel Craig outings, was to reimagine Bond in less fanciful, more human terms. This picture goes way beyond that into outright subversion. The Bond of this film is a nearly broken man: demoralized, out of condition, and essentially unfit for duty as an intelligence operative. The tenor of his conflict with the film’s antagonist, a disgraced former agent played by Javier Bardem, is sibling rivalry over the favor of their mutual mother figure, the British intelligence chief M (Judi Dench). The film caps this Freudian subtext with the grand joke of its epilogue, in which the Craig character, with his unresolved mommy issues, becomes the Bond played by Sean Connery. One assumes he takes on that version's smugness and misogyny as well. The reboot comes full circle with the films that started it all. The picture manages to be both a terrific adventure movie and a cutting satire of the material. One could not ask for any aspect of it--from the writing and the acting to the pacing and the production values--to be any better. The title song is gorgeously performed by Adele.

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