30 November 2012

Silent Bond

I'll start with the thesis for a Skyfall post other than the one I'm writing presently: The Daniel Craig Bond era has been a disappointment given the promise of Casino Royale. Perhaps it's because he hasn't found anyone to engage his interest as thoroughly as the viper-eyed Eva Green or perhaps it's because I haven't had again the same fashion boner as I did for the grey suit in his first Caribbean adventure.

My memories of the Bond franchise are wrapped up with my father--we must have seen the entire canon together. We reveled in the Connery (Goldfinger is the correct answer to best Bond ever and not just because it has a scene at KFC), despised the Moore, accepted the Dalton and suffered the Brosnan in theaters. With this Sam Mendes iteration, I'm reminded of a line in one of my dad's favorite Sinatra songs--"All My Tomorrows"--we're drifting and the laughs are few. In Skyfall, Craig does his best I'm-adjusting-my-cufflinks-as-the-end-of-this-train-car-is-being-torn-off-because-I'm-Bond-James-Bond thing but the script could really use some actual jokes rather than flatly-delivered rhetorical remarks.

On the other hand...I think the early, silent Shanghai sequence best action sequence ever in Bond. As MI:4 showed us, skyscrapers are better action venues than roadways these days (Tom Cruise IS Jack Reacher). Bond follows another superassassin through the undulant streets and up a glass tower surrounded by neon in every direction. There is a blue and green cast on the floor where the killers stalk each other, the reflected lights doubled and tripled over their bodies, a hall of mirrors like The Lady from Shanghai. The hand-to-hand combat on the precipice is less gripping than the constant advertisements gliding like jellyfish across the screen. Bond manages to dispatch his rival into the digital matrix out the window but not soon enough to save a gentleman who was sniped before he got a chance to enjoy a private art show in an adjacent building. In extreme long shot, we see the shimmering Bérénice Marlohe, like a latter day Tia Carrere, step away from the dead man unperturbed. Behind her is a stolen Modigliani face staring cockeyed back at Bond--it's painting as a hopeless anachronism.

It's increasingly rare to see a Bond set piece and find it so full of ideas.

The continuation of the Asian tour in Macau is lovely but less original (it borrows the fireworks scene, if not the chemistry, from To Catch a Thief). Still, the sea of leonine dragon heads match M's recursive bulldog tchotchke and the bowlegged, Bardem-esque (Bardemian?) komodo dragons are a nice touch. When Javier Bardem arrives in the flesh as good-agent-gone-bad Silva we immediately wonder: couldn't he have just been Anton Chigurh? Was Cormac even reached by telegraph in New Mexico to ask for the rights? We coulda had a franchise...

But the work of DP Richard Deakins' and the film climax at Skyfall manor, its signage topped with Baratheonian (certainly not Baratheon-esque) stags. Here is the country to match Mr. Craig at 43--he's older, more of a topcoat man, greyed as 007's old Aston Martin. There's a fabulous tracking shot where his silvered stubble shimmers continuous to the frosted moor (the three-quarter profile works best to minimize the jug ears that have an odd prominence in the heavily-silhouetted early passages of the film). Deakins captures rocky outcrops studded with moss like cactus fruit, so reminiscent of that No Country for Old Men desert scrub.

Albert Finney (certainly in the winter of the year) is rustled up and he helps Bond with some inspired, Home Alone-style booby-trapping for the inevitable final standoff with Bardem. (The revelation that Bond hid in a secret panel after his parents died was an unnecessary bit of back fill. Sean Connery didn't have any back story--he was too busy boozing, fucking babes and shooting people in the face, you know?) After the requisite explosions and casualties, Bond stumbles away from his Manderley, blasted into even starker lunarscape than where we started, hoping that next time around MGM finds a writer to match the cinematographer. 

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