Nov 11, 2012

REVIEW: Skyfall (dir. Mendes)

Sam Mendes does for the Bond movie what he did for dissections of American suburbia in American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, for prohibition thrillers in Road to Perdition and war movies in Jarhead: he arrives late to the party, rifles through a database of iconographic imagery, and then sieves the results through a filter of "good taste". The result is good-looking, dramatically inert, high-end filmmaking that invites its audience to feel superior to cheap thrills it doesn't have the faintest idea how to produce. How's this for classy: Tennyson read over a chase in which Bond races to save M from an assassination attempt. Better than your average Bourne chase flick, huh? Except its not. The Tennyson actually precedes the running, which is simply dropped in to fill out the idea. That's Skyfall all over: the action serving as filler for the bright ideas of staging Mendes can't stop himself having. I'm not even sure he is even an action director in the proper sense of the word. Walter Hill wouldn't learn much. Mendes has little instinct for suspense — for building a sequence, and then sending it rattling into the back of the next. He's too busy making pretty pictures. The pre-credit sequence — a train and motorbike race —  has some whizz to it, but there's a shootout wrapped in the advertising images of high-rise Hong Kong, reflected in glass, that is so sumptuous I half expected Adele to start busting her lungs, but my pulse barely flickered throughout. At the end, a man falls to his death, in vertiginous tribute to Saul Bass. Should Bond be this beautiful? The series always dreamed of sophistication, of course, with its  martinis and jet travel and beautiful exotica — those complaining about product placement in the new film ought to remember that Fleming was dropping labels decades before Bret Easton Ellis was spitting out his pacifier — but it was the pseudo-sophistication of the business traveller, doomed to curdle into kitsch. That is what made Casino Royale such a blessed relief, for here was Bond played straight, with a new Bond who was blonde and tough and cool again. Given this, Mendes decision to revisit the theme of the Timothy Dalton Bonds — Bond as dinosaur, ribbed by his younger colleagues for being out-of-date — is all the more baffling, a self-inflicted defeat just inches from the end zone. What sense does it make to have M hauled in front of a government oversight committee and told that era of human intelligence is past, when what revivified the whole Bond franchise in the first place was the renewed threat of terrorism? The contemporary resonance is there on a plate. But Mendes' mind is elsewhere: on Aston Martins and whiskey and British bulldogs and the Scottish highlands and grouse-shooting and Albert Finney and the Westminster skyline. "I didn't know you could get up here," says Moneypenny. "Why waste a view?" responds Bond. The result is one of the oddest plots imaginable: Javier Bardem steals a list of spies names so that he can be captured and brought to London where he takes over the Undergound system and dress up as an English bobby in order to assassinate M, while she is reciting Tennyson, and then when that fails, pursue Bond up to his highland castle where he can lay waste to his Aston Martin and Whiskey reserves. Whatever happened to global domination? C+


  1. Also SPOLIER ALERT how Bond basically fails throughout the whole movie. Good guys and innocent bystanders are slaughtered left and right, sometimes with him just standing by watching. Or like on that island when when he makes his move AFTER it's too late for the girl (at least he got that nice shower on the boat?). I mean, I liked it about a B/B+, but still: c'mon 007, how about saving some lives here. UNRELATED: when are you going to see/grade Perks of Being a Wallflower and Searching For Sugar Man, both of which are likely to make my Top 10?

  2. That's a very good review IMHO, and it's even a little off-putting to read it on a blog with only one other comment. "Is there anyone now writing about movies better than Tom Shone? I think not," says John Heilemann in the blurb from New York Magazine, and I can't disagree, but it isn't exactly wild praise.

  3. Well said, Tom. Can't understand why the film got such rave reviews more generally (any insight?). With no apology for being a pedant, by the way, you mention Hong Kong when the action takes place in Shanghai.