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Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Skyfall

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Produced by: Michael G. Wilson
Barbara Broccoli

Screenplay by: Neal Purvis
Robert Wade
John Logan

Based on: James Bond created by Ian Fleming

Starring: Daniel Craig
Judi Dench
Javier Bardem
Ralph Fiennes
Naomie Harris
`Berenice Marlohe
Albert Finney

Music by: Thomas Newman

Cinematography by: Roger Deakins

Editing by: Stuart Baird
Kate Baird

Studio(s): Eon Productions
Danjaq LLC

Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Colombia Pictures

Release date(s): October 23, 2012 (London Premiere)
October 26, 2012 (United Kingdom)
November 9, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 143 minutes

Country(s): United Kingdom
United States

Language: English

Production budget: $200 million

Box office revenue: $872, 433, 656

Ahoy there, folks, me again, up to the usual shenanigans of procrastinating from my Uni work on Nietzsche, but let's face it, movie reviewing is way more fun. It hasn't stopped me from being behind schedule, so the following reviews will be for films I saw in the month of November, which will, as ever, be followed by a review of the month. So, for reviews of movies that are (mostly) no longer stinking up the theatres (now fouling up your DVD players!) and perhaps a few movies from December somewhere down the line, keep your eyes posted!

Alrighty, so today's movie is the twenty-third movie for the now fifty-year-old James Bond film franchise, Skyfall. It has been four years since Quantum Of Solace (Question Of Sport as the good boys Kermode and Mayo would call it), and the production has had ups and downs, what with MGM having financial troubles, and original screenwriter Peter Morgan left the project during the suspension of production, which happened during most of 2010. The big thing about Skyfall is that director Sam Mendes, who is most well-known for directing dramas such as American Beauty (which deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Picture and himself the Best Director award), Road To Perdition and Revolutionary Road. In this instalment, the returning Daniel Craig's Bond investigates a terrorist attack on MI6 headquarters. Part of the marketing behind Skyfall is the secrecy regarding it's plot, and as such I am going to respect their intentions and do my best to not unveil any major spoilers throughout the course of the review. So, excusing my laziness, putting lack of plot synopsis down to my burgeoning integrity, let's have it!

Starting with the good, I've got to give praise to Sam Mendes and the direction in which he has taken the film. Presumably, he might not have the opportunity to make another James Bond movie, so I like, what with backstory out of the way, that he has just decided to what he wants with the character. Yes, it also has three screenwriters, but this has all the rich complexities that we see in Mendes' dramas, so much so that this is a James Bond that, while having a good bit of action, in my (not-so humble) opinion, is more a psychological thriller than anything else. With the focus on character, the main cast take advantage of the opportunity to flesh them out onscreen. The Bond we saw Daniel Craig play in Casino Royale is back, but this time there are a lot more complexities for him to deal with. The key thing about Craig's Bond is that he has always been a kind-of 'Bond on the edge' who's emotionally repressed, so it's little nuances and subtleties that we rely on. Without being too robotic, we do get the idea of this man, determined and intelligent, being able to get the job done, while also being in a state of lethargic ennui and disenfranchised with his work. On the flipside, we have Javier Bardem as the film's antagonist Raoul Silva. Despite his large screen presence, the chameleonic Bardem slips into this role completely, giving us the most memorable Bond villain since Sean Bean's Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye. His look, which has something otherworldly, lacking in national origin, with an element of androgyny with the blond hair, is wholly unique and quite unlike anything we've seen before in a Bond villain. Also, Bardem has come up with the most seductive, hypnotic voice that not only demands that we pay attention to every single word that he says, because it's the kind of voice that would have done Shakespeare justice, but also that his involvement/relationship with Bond is not based on pure antagonism: it's beyond personal, and that the task (not to be revealed by me) has taken on an existentialist quality for Silva. Finally on the cast front we have Judi Dench's M. Ever since entering the franchise in the previously mentioned GoldenEye, she has been a formidable presence, but her role has been increased since Daniel Craig's entry to the series. The love-hate relationship between Bond and M is intensified here, and Dench pulls it off effortlessly. She's shown to harbour warmth towards Bond, but Dench also gets across that she's one ruthless, cold-hearted human being at times. A lot of Skyfall is based dichotomies, but I'm only discussing the one's that are obvious going in, so you can enjoy (perhaps!) the other's that are to be discovered. As to be expected from the franchise, the film is technically solid, but I'd like to flag up the efforts of a few specifically. The production designers/costume designers have done an amazing job of establishing Bond's surrounding, and their work in conjunction with the special effects team(s) firmly entrenches Skyfall in a believable world where extraordinary things can and do happen. You know they're doing their job right when you cannot tell what's an effect and what isn't. Also, the stunt choreography is terrific and unique, given the character-based drive of the film. It's about action that serves the character, and it does justice to Bond. This film contains some memorable action sequences, but my personal favourite has to be the final act's sequence, which I will not spoil, but it is simply breathtaking. In that regard, I must compliment the cinematography of the great Roger Deakins. One of cinema's greatest cinematographers doesn't need any more compliments, but he's going to get them, because his contribution is key to the success of Skyfall. There's something about the way he shoots this film that enables us to focus in on the characters and get right down to the crux of what they are about. Also, the (subtle) moody hues of his photography, which of course was convented into a beautiful IMAX print, give it an almost expressionistic feel, and also, with his lighting, you feel that the environment in the film has something to say. Furthermore, he's a cinematographer with enough sense to shoot an action sequence so you can see what's happening, so that's another plus for him! Finally, as a whole this Bond delivers the action you'd expect, but is also very different in terms of overall atmosphere to any we've seen before, so hats off to those involved for not going the easy route and playing Bond-by-numbers. 

These nice things being said, what with Skyfall being a great movie and one of the best Bonds, it does have one fundamental issue that denies it from being up there with the very best of cinema and that is its unnecessary running time. The script is consistent, but the movie takes way too long in dealing with what could have been done and dusted in about two hours. As I say, the issue is fundamental, in that it's pretty hard to identify what to remove from the finished piece. However, I do think this is a problem, not just with Skyfall but many other blockbusters, in that studios feel the need to have a two-and-a-half hour running length to their films. I think that's part of the reason Dredd (although not as big by any stretch as this budget-wise) was such a breath of fresh air, given that it was over and done with in an hour and a half, leaving us wanting more. Here, the audience are not deprived, but instead are overfed, the studios thinking we are all gluttonous pigs! 

I spent as much time telling you about what was wrong with the running time as the film did, so I'll cut to the chase. Running length aside, Skyfall is a great movie that does much for James Bond character. It's a dark, atmospheric mood piece, for which director Mendes must be praised, with some stellar acting from Craig, Bardem and Dench. Furthermore, it delivers on the action side, with a terrifically established mise-en-scene that is photographed with a fine, wise and respectful eye in Roger Deakins. This is Bond as you've never seen it, standing out on it's own two feet, and as a result it's one of the best of the franchise.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cold (I wish I could hibernate these months out and stay awake for the rest of the year. We sleep about four months of the year anyway, it seems like a fair deal to me!)

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