★★★★★ Sean Connery personified the first incarnation of the suave, seductive James Bond in the 1962 film, Dr. No. Fifty years later, Bond is still thriving, with Daniel Craig now playing the famed role in the latest film in the series, Skyfall.
Skyfall continues what Casino Royale started in 2006: a revamped version of Bond that expertly balances high-octane action and genuine pathos.
The film opens with an exhilarating chase scene through the bustling markets of a Turkish city. The constant shift of vehicles - from cars to motorcycles to the top of a speeding train - keeps the energy high and perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the film.
After a hard drive containing the names of all the undercover NATO agents disappears, Bond is tasked with uncovering the thief. As the film progresses, it is slowly revealed that not only is the so-far unseen villain extremely tech-savvy, he also has a personal vendetta against Bond’s boss and head of MI6, M (Judi Dench).
The expansion and exploration of M is one of Skyfall’s greatest strengths. Dench is such a talented actor and previous Bond films have only allowed her to showcase fleeting levels of her charm and skill. Here, Dench becomes an active proponent of the plot and the dynamic between Bond and M is shown in a new light.
Besides Dench, Naomie Harris as Eve and Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva are also excellent. Harris and Craig share a natural chemistry that transcends obvious sexual tension. While there is clear attraction, Harris succeeds as one of the better Bond females because she gives Eve an edge and a strong sense of character.
The villainous Silva is also an intriguing character made more spellbinding by Bardem’s stellar performance. When Silva first appears on screen, nearly one hour into the film, he doesn’t threaten Bond with weapons but rather with words. He delivers a hypnotic monologue about the dynamic between two strong-willed individuals, presented in one extended take, which ends in Silva attempting to seduce Bond.
Including blatant homoerotic overtones between Bond and Silva is a bold and distinctive move. It makes Silva harder to read - is he actually attracted to Bond or is he just playing with his head? The character is fascinating to watch.
Craig also continues to impress in his role. He plays Bond as a more dejected man than previous actors. Sure, he can charm the dress off of any woman with a simple wink, but he’s also much more vulnerable. It’s an interesting twist that is occasionally overplayed and made too obvious, but the change of pace is still welcome.
Between Craig, Dench, Harris and Bardem, all of the actors give captivating performances. The true star of Skyfall, however, is cinematographer Roger Deakins. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, Deakins has become a master of incorporating luminous colors into the natural shadows of a film. The seamless interplay between bright and dark as well as natural and artificial lights is simply gorgeous and makes Skyfall perhaps the most visually engaging Bond film ever.
Director Sam Mendes - best known for movies such as American Beauty and Revolutionary Road - proves to be the perfect choice for Skyfall. His experience with marrying intimate character studies with thought-provoking plots gives the typical high-action Bond film a little more bite. For every scene of adrenaline-fueled action there is a quiet, emotional scene that provides character insight.