Before I get started today, an item of note. Some of you might already follow Hilary at Feeling Beachie. She and her husband are among those directly affected by Hurricane Sandy. Their home took some serious damage in the storm, and they're having issues- as are many other people- with the Long Island Power Authority. They're spending their time trying to get answers out of a company that seems incapable of getting the job done restoring power- this at a time when other hydro utilities in the area are getting the job done. Check out this petition to hold LIPA accountable under investigation for this fiasco, and sign it and share it if you can. And for those of you who tweet, please do so, particularly by tweeting to Governor Cuomo, the White House, FEMA, and the various media outlets in the area. It's not hard to find them. Just search for hashtags such as #LIPA or #LongIslandPowerAuthority. There are a lot of people out there who are rightfully disgusted by the appalling lack of service coming out of this company.
Now then, to today...
"I can do more damage on my laptop in my pyjamas... than you can do in a year in the field." ~ Q, Skyfall
007 has returned to the big screen this weekend, and to say that the end product, Skyfall, is a triumph... is an understatement. Daniel Craig dons the suit to play the MI6 agent for the third time, after the smashing debut of Casino Royale and the misstep of Quantum of Solace. Director Sam Mendes, who usually helms films that emphasize character, takes the reins this time out, and that may well be a wise decision. The end product is character intensive, giving us a much more in depth James Bond than a different director might have gone with.
The film starts out with Bond and a fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris) trying to recover a hard drive stolen from a fellow agent by a mercenary. The chase ends with Bond shot and presumed dead. M (the outstanding Judi Dench) is pressured to retire in the aftermath of that failure by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), a fellow government official. And MI6 itself comes under attack, resulting in the deaths of several agents. Bond re-emerges, gets assigned to follow the trail, leading first to the mercenary, then to an alliance with a woman, Severine (the lovely Berenice Marlohe), who strikes a bargain with him to find the man responsible.
Fate intervenes, and Bond confronts the villain pulling the strings behind everything. Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent and cyberhacker, has a personal grudge against his former employer. Silva plots to expose NATO agents and take his revenge on M, and Bond must step up to protect her.
The choice of Mendes to direct works quite well, as it turns out. He has previously worked in character studies like American Beauty (a film that for many reasons I will always despise), Revolutionary Road, and the underrated Road to Perdition. He turns out to be quite adept at directing the set pieces of the film, the chases, gun fights, and various action sequences we expect from a Bond film. Each of these passes with the audience entirely capable of keeping track of what's going on (try getting Michael Bay to do that). And he delves into what makes these characters tick, both hero and villain, drawing performances from the cast that have depth and layers to them. Mendes has assembled a good crew and production team as well. The screenplay pairs John Logan, who has a good record in his resume, with Bond veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and the writers bring out the best. Cinematography, set design, and all of the usual items that go into production have a crisp, fitting sensibility to them. And Thomas Newman, one of my favourite film composers, makes a splendid debut in the world of Bond, composing the score for this one.
The cast is ideal. Bardem as Silva is a splendidly malevolent Bond antagonist. Bardem has played the villain before- his turn in the Coen Brothers film No Country For Old Men is a particularly chilling monster. Silva is a cyberanarchist with a profound grudge (profound being an understatement)- and there's an unhinged quality to the character. Ben Whishaw turns up as an impossibly young Q, and he has some of the same eyerolling exasperation at 007 that we were so used to in the late Desmond Llewelyn. Having had missed the Q character for a couple of films now, it's refreshing to see a Q back in the world of 007. Berenice Marlohe has an exotic quality as Severine. Naomie Harris as Eve is a match for Bond, someone entirely capable of taking care of herself. I like the spark she brings to the role. The always exceptional Ralph Fiennes starts off as difficult as Mallory, though the audience warms up to him, and as an actor, he carries an air of authority naturally. And Albert Finney, the great character actor, gives a fine performance as an ally with his own ties to Bond's family past.
Judi Dench herself practically is the co-star of the movie, a different turn from earlier films in which she has appeared relatively briefly as M. She has occasionally scolded Bond, and at other times has been supportive of him. There's a strange sort of mother and son bond the two share; Dench brings great poignancy and sympathy to the performance. She's one of the best actors around, and that really comes across on screen.
James Bond has been on the silver screen for fifty years. Skyfall is a smashing way of marking the anniversary. This might well be Bond at his best.