Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Lim Marlohe, Albert Finney
Some things simply have to happen in a Bond movie. The agent will sleep with someone who consequently dies. There will be long-drawn fight sequences on moving vehicles and narrow ledges perched hundreds of feet in the air. There will be exotic locales. There will be betrayal. There will be a devastating vehicle crash. And whether he is in the corridors of the MI6 headquarters, or riding a bike across sloping rooftops, James Bond will always look like he knows cameras are capturing his every movement. To feed human emotions and human challenges into this structure is as tough as it is to surprise a viewer with plot turns.
‘Skyfall’ may be the first Bond film that has as much drama as action. And it centres on ageing. Is Being Bond ‘a young man’s game,’ as a character who becomes very significant to the franchise tells the agent? And is M (Judi Dench) killing MI6 - and its agents - with her antiquated thinking? Is she losing the people who were most loyal to her by playing the game for too long? In an age of inquiry committees, investigation, RTI, and a powerful Press, there’s a Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who has the right to question - and advise - her. With suspicion all round, there’s space for sentimentality - to the extent someone actually reads out lines from Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses.’ Now, did you think that could ever happen in a Bond movie?
The villain here is the product of one coincidence after another. And he makes several of the characters reflect on whether they are as good as they think they are - and whether they’re as safe as they’re making their country. In a film where everyone else is underplayed, he is larger than life, and addicted to histrionic flourishes - at times, it’s almost as if the Joker had slipped into a Bond film.
Funnily enough, the script calls for subtlety, and the actors provide it. We see their thoughts in a flicker of the eyes, tightening of the jaws, a raised eyebrow, a sad smile. Of course, the film has its share of tough-guy lines, predictable comebacks, and quotable quotes. Of course, characters bark out lines like, “Where the hell have you been?” when someone returns from the grave. Of course, barbs are traded over something as silly as a porcelain bulldog. But, there’s something edgy in the film, something that convinces us we don’t really know all will be well in the end - that anything could happen, anyone could die. This is enhanced by the fight sequences, which are often seen from the perspectives of other people, sometimes without a good view. And what we don’t see has a way of making us tense.
For the first time, the chief concern in a Bond film - and in fact, the spur that fuels the entire movie - is personal vendetta. And the fact that it’s so cleverly worked into an action thriller makes the film a must-watch.
The verdict: The skilled acting and perfect pacing make ‘Skyfall’ one of the best Bond films ever.