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Monday, March 10, 2014

Movie Review - Skyfall

I’ve always been a fan of James Bond movies, from my first Sean Connery film years ago when cable became popular. Being an anglophile and a connoisseur of mystery and intrigue, I fell in love with the spy gadgets, the beautiful girls and exotic locations, the Aston Martin, the fast-paced chase scenes, and of course, the British (or Scottish) accent. But it wasn’t until Casino Royale with the fabulous Daniel Craig, that I saw a truly romantic Bond. Readers of this column know I’m a real sucker for romance, especially stories where either the hero or heroine makes the ultimate sacrifice for love. If you’ve seen Casino Royale, you know what I mean.

Many of my lady friends aren’t the least bit interested in a Bond movie, despite my efforts to sell them on Craig’s rendition of the special agent. Like Casino Royale, Skyfall is another example of a very different Bond from the one we’ve seen from other actors. He’s tender and romantic, full of a wide range of emotions, without compromising his strength and manliness. He is vulnerable and invincible at the same time, more of a likeable hero for the typical romance-loving female viewer.  And Skyfall goes even further than Casino Royale, delivering another twist on the character—the story goes back to Bond’s childhood home where the tragic loss of his parents marked him for life. And the love interest isn’t Moneypenny or the lovely eye candy who is murdered halfway through the film. No, it is none other than M.

What? An intimate portrayal with Dame Judi Dench? Yes, but it is a touching display of a mother-son love rather than the typical male-female relationship seen in a Bond film. The scene is staged from the opening sequence where M calls the shots from her cushy office in London while 007 races around Istanbul, chasing down a bad guy with a very important computer file. A sniper (Moneypenny) stands ready to take down the enemy, but it’s too close to call—Bond could be killed if she can’t get a clear view. But M can’t risk losing that computer file—she orders the sniper to take the shot. Bond falls from a moving train into a roaring river, seemingly as dead as a doornail.

But as to be expected, there is a marvelous resurrection and the story is off and running. Is Bond so indispensable to M that she would so callously risk his life? After a terrorist explosion of MI headquarters that destroys M’s office and kills eight agents, Bond returns from his island refuge in a veiled attempt to offer his help. He is angry at M and confronts her over the decision to order the sniper’s fire. Even though she is professional and authoritarian, defending her decision, we sense their close connection that is special and unique. After a grueling round of field agent tests, M reinstates Bond as Agent 007, and it is business as usual to track down the mastermind behind the explosion and the missing computer file. Only later, we learn that Bond failed the competency tests. A crack in M’s armor shows a guilty conscience, as well as a desire to see him restored to success.

The main reason I liked this movie is that it was so different and strange, so unexpected. It was deep and cerebral, with M being the focal part of the story. Since I’m a huge Judi Dench fan, I was delighted in a greater development of her role. I have always found the M character interesting and enjoyed getting just a glimpse of her backstory. But sadly for Bond fans, her propensity to sacrifice agents for the greater good catches up with her, and an eerie, almost comical madman (played very well by the great Javier Bardem) seeks revenge. Once a brilliant field agent himself, he had shared a special relationship with M, but in the end, had been sacrificed. He survived, but is left with a set of rotten teeth and a melted jaw-bone from a defective cyanide tablet. And not only that, but his bad, 80s-style hair-do, orangey dye-job, and a creepy lunatic personality that mimics a cross between Hannibal Lector and Bozo the clown, makes him a most unusual villain. I couldn’t decide whether he was terrifying or comical. But his character works and adds to the strangeness of the film.

***Spoiler ALERT***

The final showdown has Bond and M together at his old home, Skyfall, in Scotland, with the climax occurring in a little chapel outside the estate grounds. As M dies in Bond’s arms, she looks into his eyes as though she is looking into the face of her only child and says, “Well, I got one thing right.” Oh, I gulp as I write these words, remembering that tender moment. Craig plays the emotions beautifully, and the result is a Bond who has become a real flesh and bones man who women want to be with and men want to be.

Skyfall is a fun, interesting, different film that entertains and will have you thinking and pondering for days after. And ladies, if you haven’t been a Bond fan in the past, give this version a try. Daniel Craig doesn’t disappoint, and you’ll come away seeing the real man behind the clichéd 007 persona.

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