Wednesday, January 16, 2013
In 1962 James Bond made his film debut in the persona of Sean Connery. Fifty years, twenty-two films and several iterations later, Daniel Craig, now in his third appearance as the iconic character, has made it his own and of its time. Connery was the epitome of 1960s cool as he romanced women and killed Cold War thugs while barely breaking a sweat. Craig is the 007 for our anxious age in which terrorists are the enemy and harder to spot. Although he’s as adept as his predecessors at sex and death, the burden weighs on him. In this film’s opening set piece Bond and fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) are in hot pursuit of a stolen list with the names of embedded spies. M (Judi Dench), monitoring the action back at MI6, makes a judgment call that results in the loss of the list and the near death of 007. In the aftermath of that failed operation bureaucrat Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) questions Bond’s fitness for duty and informs M that she must offer her resignation in two months’ time. A cyber-attack on MI6, coordinated with the release of several agents’ names, however, compels M to put a chastened Bond back in the field to locate the thief. The dangerous trail leads him to a remote island and the effete but deadly Silva (Javier Bardem), a former agent and M’s disenchanted protégé, who has a personal vendetta against his previous employer. At first Sam Mendes, a director best known for such self-important fare as AMERICAN BEAUTY and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, seems an odd choice for a Bond film. Yet the franchise’s popcorn sensibilities and its requisite outlandish action seem to have freed him from his more turgid instincts. The script by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan sets a darker tone, almost elegiac, which gives Craig, Bardem and Dench some meat to chew on while allowing Mendes to venture into more familiar emotional territory. The film’s thematic preoccupation with nostalgia, however, leads to a near stumble at the end by circling back to 007’s beginnings. But this is first and foremost a Bond picture, and a terrific one at that, with high stakes, a great villain, and thrilling set pieces.