By Joan Ellis
Bond to a beauty: “I like you better without your Beretta.” Skyfall is first-rate James Bond from beginning to end.
Writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan have laced their plot with surprisingly clever challenges and retorts. Director Sam Mendes builds suspense by alternating long periods of anticipation with the rapid-fire violence we expect. As always, a James Bond movie is the one place where violence is such a fabricated affair that it has neither root nor echo in real life.
Has an action movie ever been made without a fruit stand being crushed by racing vehicles? This time the apples and oranges fly in all directions in the opening scene, victim to Bond’s nerve-wracking motorcycle pursuit of a man who has “the list.” We don’t know what’s on the list – just that someone has it and Bond needs it.
But here’s something new: MI6 headquarters man Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) probes the unimaginable by warning that both Bond (Daniel Craig) and M (Judi Dench) should retire because they are irrelevant to the new world of digital espionage. Bond and M obsolete? That’s a mighty blow to the faithful. The awful possibility hangs over the rest of the movie.
But we all know every Bond film depends on its characters, and they have never been better – with the minor reservation that those of us who have seen all the Bonds can never quite forget the young Sean Connery. That said, Daniel Craig is a blisteringly good 007. Controlled and unsmiling, he battles his way through to a moving finale that unfolds in his native Scotland. It is there that we meet Kincade (Albert Finney), a marvelous old Scot who knew Bond as a boy. With just a few strokes, Albert Finney creates a memorable character, and his scenes with Judi Dench are sublime.
Ralph Fiennes is just right as the desk-bound boss who sees intelligence work in digital terms but on occasion allows his imagination to take fiery flight. Judi Dench, who used to come to us primarily through the earphones that carry her orders to Bond, deepens her role as M here and does it beautifully. In still another twist, she and Bond become a team planting themselves as bait to catch the villain.
Ah, the villain. Javier Bardem turns Silva into the most startling Bond bad man of all time. He is an unhinged snake of a man bent on revenge. Under his peroxide hair, the expressions in his eyes and mouth reveal his hideous inner self. You will not want to watch him, but you will. Bardem is riveting and chilling with the added cruelty of being unforgettable.
So there you have it. With fine support from a good cast, Craig, Dench, Finney, Fiennes, and Bardem lift Skyfall from a prolonged derailment back to mythical prominence. The whole thing is a fanciful form of human invention served up for our collective delight.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.