Light-based media

Everything right and wrong with ‘Skyfall’

Firstly, here is everything wrong with Skyfall, in 4 minutes or less:

Pretty damning, right? What a dumb movie.

Now read these five reasons Skyfall is the best James Bond movie ever:

  1. DIRECTION:Skyfall is not competently directed. Skyfall is beautifully directed. Sam Mendes has serious theatre chops, and it shows. The scene where Bond tracks Patrice through the skyscraper in Shanghai, through a maze of tilting glass and sliding neon, is gorgeous. The tension is impeccably tuned. Mendes lets shots breathe.”
  2. THEMES:Skyfall says something. Actually, it says a bunch of things. It’s a love-letter to London. It’s a film about Britain: about the crisis of British post-Imperial identity and the British realisation that we no longer matter a damn, to anybody; that we spent a hundred years crushing anyone who got in our way, that it gained us a lot of power but very few friends, and that when the power ebbs away the friends don’t come back.”
  3. ACTING: “Craig is perfect in this film. For a two-minute demonstration, watch the ‘psychological examination’ scene. Put aside your doubts about word-association being a kind of clapped-out way of providing a quick shot of character depth, and just watch Craig. To ‘murder’, he drops the three syllables of ‘employment’ with a bitterness that shows he knows damn well he’s being watched. To ‘M’, conversely, he fires off ‘bitch’ so fast it barely registers; it feels genuinely reflexive, and M’s reaction proves she can see that too. To ‘heart’, he grinds out ‘target’ with a kind of horrible relish. I’ve never seen a Bond, even Connery, sound more like a contract killer who may be sitting on some very genuine psychological damage. With Brosnan that scene wouldn’t have been at all believable. ‘Target’ would have been a zinger with an eyebrow-raise attached, not the snarl of something trapped and poked.”
  4. CHARACTERISATION: “I don’t really expect a Bond movie to subject the character of James Bond to any serious examination, any more than I expect the average Doctor Who episode to get really down and dirty with what makes the Doctor tick. But, in both cases, finding one that does is a real treat. The mechanism that makes it possible here is Bardem’s mesmerising turn as Mr Silva.”
  5. STRUCTURE: “Skyfall literally runs backwards. We flip through five decades of history in reverse, five decades of action movies, and then fall through the front cover. Bond goes back to the days before he was Bond, burns his house down, holds his mother as she dies, and is reborn. By the time he gets back to London, we’re moving in the right direction again. M is an older ex-military man in a wood-panelled office. There’s a beautiful secretary licking her lips behind the desk. There’s a nerdy genius down in Q Branch who regards Bond as an unfortunate necessity. There’s a coat-stand just inside the door. James Bond got old, he got tired, he got addicted to booze and pills and failed his marksmanship exam, so he went back and blew up his past with a couple of gas canisters and then turned up to work the next morning with a fresh shirt and hunter’s eyes. He gets to do that. He’s James Bond. When who he was gets too heavy for him, he kills it, and moves on. That’s why we pay to watch him.”

Personally, I’m thrilled that Mendes has signed up for Bond 24.