Skyfall (Sam Mendes)
by Srikanth Mantravadi
Great movie. Sam Mendes was an unusual choice for a Bond movie considering most of his works have been dramas centred on the human condition with themes like estrangement and familial relationships. So this was always going to be interesting. After all the immediate precedent was such a boring misfire and came from a director not very unlike Mendes. But all these fears vanish as soon as the movie begins with some jaw dropping action sequences set on Turkey’s rooftops and a cross country train. As if this was not enough, Mendes comes up with the one of the finest opening credit sequences ever (Set to some great vocals by Adele) which is an explosion of elegant psychedelia. He has our full attention from thereon and this film hardly ever slips up. It is relentless in its pacing but does not do it at the expense of emotion. Every sequence is finely staged with terrific, terrific (That is not a typo but my inability to really emphasise this as much as I want to) support from Roger Deakins who with his photography surpasses what every compatriot of his has done so far. The climax, shot against a blaze in a desolate Scottish grassland, with people in silhouettes is immensely haunting; so is a cat and mouse sequence set in the garish lights of Shanghai. This is an incredibly aesthetic movie to watch and it is all the more great that Deakins has shot most of the scenes while working with low lighting and in near darkness.
The story is functional like in all Bond movies but the screenwriting is fantastic in most places. It is the right amount of poker faced seriousness (which for some is also cheesiness. Only at one point does it falter, when Bond looks at M and says “Storm is coming.” But this is again not so much the fault of the writers but simply the popularity of that dialogue from a certain Nolan movie) and cheekiness [At one point Q says to Bond “You were not expecting exploding pens are you.” This movie, like all other ageing franchises, follows the trend of poking fun at its predecessors even while grappling to find relevance for characters that were originally created with a different set of circumstances in mind (Bond for example as the agent having assignments to deal with the Communist enemy)]. It helps that all these dialogues are given to masters of not just this genre but any genre like Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Javier Bardem and last but not the least Daniel Craig himself. Daniel Craig is back in Casino Royale mode – gritty and resurgent – after a brief detour as the psychologically wounded and unhinged Bond of Quantum. The swagger, style and even the dissolute ways are back. Berenice Marlohe won’t be remembered a few years hence but she is competent. Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, who also kicks some ass on the side, is an interesting take on what Fleming had originally written. In fact, the Bond franchise seems to be breaking some of the resolute ideas of Fleming by first having a woman as M, a blonde hero as Bond and, now, a black woman as Moneypenny. Bardem makes for an excellent villain (How can he not?) and people who think they have seen enough of him might still be surprised by the way he plays Silva.
With Skyfall, Mendes successfully gives a new fillip to the franchise which flattered to deceive with the earlier two movies. It also marks the successful transition of Bond from an anti-Communist agent to an anti-terrorism agent, buttressing his and his agency’s relevance in a contemporary world. Skyfall has all the elements of a classic Bond movie and more. It is classy, visually stunning and a fantastic addition to the franchise.
PS: If Roger Deakins doesn’t win an Oscar for this, I would very surprised.
PPS: Best Bond movie? Speaking for myself, yes, this is indeed the best Bond movie.