November, 2012, Thriller

 The James Bond franchise celebrates its golden anniversary with this overly long (2hrs, 15 min.) exploration of a character as ubiquitous as any to ever come out of Hollywood.  Daniel Craig reprises his two previous efforts with a level of physicality and ennui hinted at in his first Bond film (Casino Royale) but sadly lacking in its successor (Quantum of Solace).  But working with a script by perennial Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade under the direction of Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road) Craig may just replace Sean Connery as the actor most associated with 007.

 Mendes and Craig open the film with yet another of those visually and physically astounding action sequences, this time employing just about every mode of transportation imaginable - - but with a twist; Bond gets shot under circumstances which suggest either treachery or incompetence. He goes to ground and the remainder of the film’s first half wanders, in typical Bond fashion, from London to Macao to Singapore and then to an obscure Southeast Asian island where Silva, MI 6’s current nemesis, allows himself to be captured with suspicious ease. It’s at this point that Skyfall stops being just another installment in an often dog-eared example of the genre and becomes something both darker and fresher than the episodes preceding it.

 Silva is played by Javier Bardem, a Spanish actor born in the Canary Islands whose career embraces everything from terrifying villains (No County For Old Men) to romantic heroes (The Dancer Upstairs) to courageous paralytics (The Sea Inside). He combines rugged good looks with an intelligence that suffuses his characters and his Silva, a long-discredited former member of The Secret Service, personifies villainy and pathos in equal measure. When he breaks out of prison in London all hell literally breaks loose, providing an extended climatic sequence as visually exciting and emotionally touching as anything this series has ever accomplished.

 Skyfall is also notable as a cinematic changing of the guard; M, the head of MI 6 (Judy Dench) is dealt with here in ways that open up new opportunities for sequels featuring her successor (Ralph Finnes in a rather dour performance) as well as new faces in other supporting roles it would be criminal to divulge here. Sufficient it to say that when Craig’s quizzed about his ability and willingness to remain “in service”, the answer’s a foregone conclusion.

 The film isn’t perfect; it’s too long and Mendes once again indulges his penchant for abstract imagery that got in the way of his storytelling in American Beauty.  But he handles the action pieces of Skyfall with bristling self-confidence and the final reel of the movie ratchets up the standard for exciting climaxes to a new level.

 The contributions of Mendes, Bardem and Dench notwithstanding, this franchise rests upon the shoulders of its lead.  No one since Connery debuted the role a half century ago has been both handsome enough and sufficiently feral to embody a character as ruthlessly dedicated to the defense of God and country.  Craig’s taut frame and cynical expression make him perfect for the role he’s sure to occupy in the inevitable sequels that will follow this blockbuster.

 The Verdict? Quintessential 007-escapism and perhaps the very best in the series.





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