“Skyfall” Movie Review

     I’m not surprised that bringing in Oscar winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”, “Revolutionary Road”) on board the new Bond film “Skyfall” has resulted in what is, perhaps, one of the best in the series rich 50 year history.  Films always begin with the quality behind the camera. From script to the creative direction it will take,  the talent assembled before casting can make or break a film and determine how successful it will be with both audiences and critics.  Though action films don’t standout on Mendes’ resume, his ability to build several important characters in his films does and this is what we really needed in “Skyfall”.  We all know Bond matters, but other characters such as “M” and the film’s bad guy usually took a back seat in character development during previous Bond films.

     Mendes has erased that template, digging deep into both the psyche of James Bond (Daniel Craig), as well as the story’s other important characters such as M (Judi Dench) and Silva (Javier Bardem).  There is so much interplay and back story on Bond and M that we don’t even get a glimpse of Silva, the film’s villain, until about 80 minutes in.  As is normally the case with a Bond film, “Skyfall” opens with a rousing action sequence in which Bond and another MI6 agent, Eve (Naomie Harris) are chasing a man through the streets of Istanbul who has stolen a very important hard drive.  The sequence ends with Eve being ordered by M to take a sniper shot at the bad guy who is fist fighting Bond on the top of a moving train.  Eve misses and Bond falls, presumably to his death, but at only 20 minutes in, you know that won’t be the case.  As Bond puts it later, he is “enjoying death” and leads even his employer to believe he is dead, until he once again appears after a terrorist attack in London at the MI6 building.

     Like this past summer’s “Dark Knight Rises”, Mendes works in the fact that age and injury have take a physical toll on Bond.  When he comes back to MI6, he is made to go through a battery of physical and tactical training, none of which it appears he can pass with the same level of proficiency he once had.  Craig’s Bond has always been less hammy and more of a darker rugged character than audiences got used to with Sean Connery and Roger Moore.  Even with Pierce Brosnan, the portrayal leaned more toward the suave, rather than Craig’s version who seems to just take what he wants, rather than asking for it.  To keep this series going, there’s no doubt Bond needed a new persona and though Craig tinkered with it in “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace”, he, with the help of Mendes and Bond veteran screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have now perfected it.  Simply put, Bond now feels new, rather than retro.

     “Skyfall” proceeds with Bond being assigned to find the whereabouts of the hard drive, which contains the names of every undercover agent embedded in various terrorist organizations throughout the world.  The mastermind of the operation, Silva, is releasing the names on YouTube, five at a time, jeopardizing the world’s entire intelligence community.  Bond’s investigation leads him to Shanghai, where he locates and follows the man he fought on the train at the beginning of the film.  The sequences in Shanghai and Macau are some of the most beautifully shot for a film all year.  Mendes clearly excels in creating these moody Bond-like atmospheres using stunning locations and imagery.  The use of these settings not only exhibits the high production value, but also lends to the fact the filmmakers took a very artistic approach in constructing each frame, a method that pays off big here. 

     Bond is eventually led to meet Silva on a deserted island where the mastermind is hatching a plot to get revenge against M for betraying him, as he was once an MI6 agent as well.  Bardem plays Silva in much the same manner he played the villain in “No Country for Old Men”.  He sports an over the top blonde hair style and exudes a clever arrogance you can’t help but be impressed with.  In most cases, an audience knows what to expect from the Bond character, so it is always of the upmost in importance to have a quality villain.  This is yet another area that “Skyfall” excels like few before it.  Silva is smart, but he’s also menacing and evil in much the same way Hannibal Lector was.  It’s probably no coincidence he is kept in a Lector style prison cell when he is temporarily in the custody of MI6.  Silva is not the kind of guy you want to take chances with and he proves that several times in the picture’s third act.

     In another nod to the “Batman” films, “Skyfall” is actually the estate which Bond grew up at in Scotland.  Bond and M flee to “Skyfall”, knowing Silva will follow them, and hope taking the technology out of the fight will level the playing field and allow Bond to battle Silva on his own turf.  Similar to Michael Caine’s character in “The Dark Knight”, Kincade (Albert Finney) has been the property’s keeper since Bond was a child and he helps Bond barricade themselves within the walls of “Skyfall” as Silva and his men arrive.  The film certainly sets the stage for a grand finale of good versus evil, but the emotional resonance between the characters, particularly Bond and M are what make the finale so effective.  With these characters hitting their 50th birthday and this being the 24th film, I’m all the more impressed with what has been accomplished here.  “Skyfall” comes off as fresh, rather than a rehash of old ideas and sends the series in a new direction which should keep audiences entertained for decades to come. GRADE: A