First things first: Skyfall is the most gorgeous-looking blockbuster of the year, hands down, thanks to director of photography Roger Deakins.
Now it might seem strange to start a review of one of the most anticipated movies of the year by praising the cinematography, but I want to call attention to work that is worthy of an Academy Award in a movie series that has rarely (nine nominations in total; two wins) been so honored. It’s a mark of the film’s accomplishment, however, that the photography is not the finest achievement of Skyfall, orchestrated by director Sam Mendes under the guiding hands of producers Barbara Brocoli and Michael G. Wilson.
In Skyfall, superior action sequences surround superb dramatic scenes, one after the after, in a near-continuous stream, flowing effortlessly through a nail-biting narrative that rarely pauses; when it does, it’s for effect, to allow the mind to catch up with the racing heart.
The film’s modus operandi is established in the opening scenes. Long established as a trademark in the series, the pre-credits sequence is an opportunity for each installment to try and top all that have come before for outlandish, insanely dangerous stunts and situations. Here we have James Bond (Daniel Craig) and fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in hot pursuit of a stolen list containing the secret identies of undercover British intelligence agents. Under the direct supervision of M (Judi Dench), the agents incur millions of dollars in property damage, heedlessly smashing vehicles and risking the lives of hundreds of people, ending up with Bond on top of a train locked in mortal combat with the thief while Eve locks onto her target with an assassin’s long-range rifle; a tunnel is looming ahead and seconds remain. M must make a fateful decision.
It’s all rather breathless, and the film hurtles forward from there. Nary a shot is wasted; Mendes and veteran editor Stuart Baird never linger, always pushing things forward. The story revolves around the stolen list and the increasing pressure upon M for her perceived failures, especially as applied by government minister Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who now provides oversight for the intelligence agencies. Knowing that she is being forced into retirement, M doubles down to recapture the stolen list and discover the personal connection that she may have to the thief.
Javier Bardem creates a memorable villain, edging toward parody without falling into that trap, and key support is provided by Harris, Fiennes, Ben Whishaw as a terribly young techno-whiz Q, and Bérénice Marlohe as a new version of the “Bond girl.”
But the film belongs to Craig and Dench, with Craig giving the most complex portrayal of 007 yet and Dench fleshing out her character’s years of experience. The script is credited to Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as well as John Logan, but it’s the performances that truly persuade, smoothing over several rough patches in the narrative. Skyfall is top-notch all the way.
Skyfall opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, November 9.