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February 12, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Skyfall (2012)

by NIR SHALEV

Skyfall (2012)

Growing up in the ‘80s, my eyes glued to the television set, I watched whatever James Bond films played on TV. The problem was that most of those films starred Roger Moore, who is arguably the worst interpretation of James Bond (George Lazenby doesn’t count) and whose James Bond films are the worst in the series (this is a personal opinion; please don’t shoot me for saying this!) It wasn’t until the ‘90s that I discovered that the quintessential James Bond iteration and interpretation is Sean Connery’s. His films were the ones that I eventually fell in love with because they didn’t rely heavily on gadgets, like the succeeding films tend to do.

Fast-forward to 2006’s Casino Royale and that’s where the past had ceased to exist because that’s the James Bond film that I’d been waiting for my entire life. As it stands I own only two James Bond films: Goldfinger (1964) and Casino Royale (2006). I believe that they’re not just the quintessential films of that series but that they’re also, legitimately excellent films. Skyfall will be the third James Bond film that I will own.

At the film’s start, as is shown in the trailer, James Bond (Daniel Craig) attempts to recover a hard drive that contains important MI6/military-related secrets. Bond fails to do so because his partner shoots him instead of his assailant. She didn’t have a clean shot and M (Dame Judy Dench) told her to take the shot anyway.

Three months go by and there’s still no sign of James Bond. He lives in solitude on a tropical island, undisclosed to MI6, and only returns to work when he hears on a news program of an explosion inside the MI6 building.

M informs Bond of the importance of the lost hard drive and tasks him with re-taking all of his physical and mental tests so that MI6 could re-hire him, clear him as safe for duty, and send him on his merry way to retrieve the hard drive. But politics ensue.

That’s all the detail that I’m willing to give regarding the general story outline because this is the first James Bond film I’d seen which is entirely character driven. The plot is simple but always makes sense; the bad guy is relatable (played wonderfully by Javier Bardem) and is almost entirely sympathetic; and M has as big a role as Bond’s. Actually, in a way her role is even bigger than Bond’s because she’s singlehandedly responsible for everything that happens throughout the film, be it good or bad.

When Bond is on the train, M yells at his partner to “take the bloody shot!” and as a result Bond is shot. When confronting M, after the three month hiatus, Bond asks, “What was that thing you said? Take the bloody shot?” To which M responds that she had to make a call and that she’s sticking to it. Then Bonds asks her, “Why didn’t trust me to complete the mission?” It’s like a mother and her child bickering about the past using hindsight.

Skyfall (2012)

As the film progresses every problem that arises is made worse either because Bond really isn’t ready to get back to work (another mistake of M’s: putting him back on the field when he’s clearly not ready) or is made worse because of M’s poor decision making skills. It also has a lot to do with the film’s main theme which is that of the current state of espionage. Why does a 00 status agent even exist when the world is run by computers and men and women that simply need to push a button once in a while? Well, because sometimes a trigger needs to be pulled, also. But I’m not here to talk shop or politic, I’m here to tell everyone why this is not just one of the three best Bond films ever made, but also one of 2012’s best films.

For the first time in the James Bond film franchise M and Bond share the spotlight. The film’s villain isn’t the typical Bond villain either. He doesn’t have an underground volcanic lair; he doesn’t steal nuclear weapons and attempt to hold the world for ransom; and even though he’s a technophile, he’s an ex-MI6 agent that simply hates M. But a theme of betrayal emerges in the film’s second half and somehow Bond and the villain share a past, even though they’d never met before. And it’s beyond fascinating, it’s brilliant.

Skyfall blends fully rendered character arcs and also showcases outstanding and beautifully shot action sequences that are superior to any ever seen in a James Bond film. Director of Photography Roger Deakins, who worked on most Coen Brothers films, on two previous Sam Mendes films, and who’s arguably the best DP working in the biz today, turns the James Bond universe into an arthouse project that looks remarkably expensive, stylish, and down to earth all at once. There is a fight sequence that takes place between Bond and another villain inside a high-rise in Shanghai in which both men are displayed as silhouettes. The fight lasts between 15 and 20 seconds, is showcased in one single shot, and the audience can tell exactly who’s who. It’s not just awesome it’s also beautiful, and it brings a new and exciting level of freshness to a film franchise that’s half a century old.

I love this film. The bad guy is larger than life but is very sympathetic and relatable; M makes one dumb mistake after another, as might also happen to anyone else in the real world; and Bond… well, he’s finally fully approached and showcased as a human being. His clothes get dirty, he grows tired after running and fighting, and he’s not always a great shot. He’s as relatable a hero as a film like this needs him to be and it’s also nice to see that director Sam Mendes’ first British film is a James Bond film.

After coming from American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002), Jarhead (2005), Revolutionary Road (2007), and Away We Go (2009), Mendes was, mysteriously an excellent choice as director for this film. Words cannot truly express the amazing job he’s done to fix that bad taste in my mouth that is Quantum of Solace (2008). But I’m glad that this film exists and that it is the way that it is. And without giving too much away, Skyfall is the best Batman film of 2012. Watch and ye shall see.

The special features contain two separate Commentary Tracks; Shooting Bond; Skyfall Premiere; and a bunch of trailers.

OTHER NEW RELEASES FOR FEBRUARY 12, 2012

The Kid with a Bike

The Man with the Iron Fists

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Robot & Frank

The Sessions


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