by Craig Thomas
For me, my favourite Bond film is Goldeneye. I think it is by far and away the best of the bunch. That may be due to it being released when I was at a formative age and it containing all sorts of things I was interested in. It had revenge, exploding pens, computer terrorism and sexy Russian ladies who could kill you with her thighs. In short, it had everything 13 year old me could desire. After that, I could take it or leave it. The older films seemed overly camp whilst the ones that followed just propelled the series further into the ridiculous at every opportunity (invisible cars, anyone?)
Then they decided as is the fashion these days, to do a reboot, a new origins story and a new Bond for a new millennium. The reason in the 40-odd years since Bond first graced our screens in Dr. No, was that the world had changed. No longer were the Russians the main threat. No longer was there a bipolar world with the obvious dynamic of good and evil. No. Now the world was much more complicated and it was time for a more modern, more relevant, more human Bond. One that reflected the uncertainties and complexities of living in the post-9/11 world. There was also the small matter of the Bourne films having a massive impact on the genre, by being “the opposite of Bond”. He went on to say, “The Bond character will always be anchored in the 1960s and the values of the ‘60s. Bond is an imperialist and a misogynist who kills people and laughs about it and drinks Martinis and cracks jokes.”
And so they remade Casino Royale and everyone hailed it as a return to form (even Quentin Tarantino, though he still insisted it was his idea), a great achievement and one that showed Bond still had a place in the world. It transformed him into a 3-dimensional, flawed and emotionally-scarred character, with feelings and emotions and all that stuff that people seem to want nowadays. Then they made the follow-up, Quantum of Solace which carried on the Bond revolution, though in such a way that after the film no-one could understand what the hell had happened.
So when Skyfall was announced, people were clearly nervous. Obviously, it would make a ton of money and loads of people would go to see it (it was after all, still Bond), but would it be any good? In a word, yes. It is better than QoS and probably Casino Royale. It is certainly my second favourite Bond film, but the difference between Skyfall and Goldeneye in my eyes is still immense.
I believe it is important to present your biases upfront, so that people can try to compensate for that. So, as you might have guessed by now, I don’t really like Bond. It just isn’t my cup of tea. I had high hopes for the reboot and, whilst they were certainly better than the rest of them, it still contained the fundamentals of why I dislike Bond. All of these problems are still in the new film, so it was inevitable that by the end I would be punching myself in the face, which I very literally was. But that’s just me.
The plot is fine. It is a simple story of revenge. The gadgets (if you can call them that) are pretty basic. There aren’t any sexy Russian thigh-killers, but then you can’t have everything. In short, it’s a relatively stripped-back Bond and carries on the feel of the last two outings.
In case you missed it, Bond is 50 years old now and the film revolves around this idea. It asks the question “can Bond still cut it?” and the answer is obviously going to be “yes!” For anyone even slightly versed in Bond folklore, this makes the first 40 or so minutes of the film pretty redundant as we all know what is going to happen, but I suppose that is part of what makes Bond so appealing (I guess, I don’t really understand it). Anyway, this idea flows through the movie. Bond is broken, M is hung out to dry and the whole idea of human espionage in general, and the 00 program in particular are questioned, in a very public manner. Throughout, MI6 struggles to cope with the very 21st century phenomenon of cyber-terrorism and the reaction to this is to relocate MI6 into the underground bunkers used during World War Two by then Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Oh yes, and to emphasize the point that Bond might be getting too old for this shit, the new Q is about 12 years old.
There has been a lot of buzz about there possibly being an Oscar-buzz about this film, but that is clearly all studio hype. There is nothing particularly special about this film in any regard, with the possible exception of the official song by Adele, which is actually really good.
On the acting front, Dame Judy Dench is great as always, but I am quickly coming to the conclusion that Daniel Craig is not a good actor, or at least not good for Bond. Perhaps I am being unfair so I will try to address that point in a moment. First, I would like to mention that all the supporting-cast, with the exception of the main bad guy had very little time for any kind of character development and were just kind of there out of necessity.
Now that’s out of the way, I would like to take a moment to say that Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem) is possibly my favourite (male) Bond villain of all time. There are three reasons for this. Firstly, Bardem is a really great actor and once again gives a brilliant performance as someone supremely creep (see No Country for Old Men for a further example of his ability to be wonderfully evil). Secondly, he has all the best lines and thirdly, I don’t really like any of the other (male) Bond villains.
This brings me to the point both about Silva and Bond, their strengths and their weaknesses. Now, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Daniel Craig in a good film so I can’t really assess how he would do with a good script and I didn’t found out from this. The script could have been almost entirely written by pumping the plot into an online auto Bond dialogue generator. It has all the sophistication of a Marx Brothers film, with none of the humour. Every time someone speaks to Bond it is only to set up another pun or dry comment. They aren’t funny, they aren’t smooth and if you paused the film every time someone said something to Bond and wrote down what you expected him to say in reply, you would be right every time. In short, it is very tiresome and explains why everyone wants Bond dead! I think this also explains why Silva is so much better; he is actually given dialogue! True, it isn’t Shakespeare, but at least it’s something more sophisticated than smart-arse tourettes.
As you would expect, the explosions are great and the action sequences look great, when they are physically done. There is quite a lot of CGI in this film and it’s not difficult to see where this is, but that’s the deal with every big film that comes out nowadays. It is still awful that a visual medium often sacrifices the visuals first, but that is for another time.
Coming to the end, I think there are only two more areas of this film I want to touch upon. The first is the nostalgia. Being the half-centenary of Bond, they also took the opportunity to make a whole bunch of not-at-all-subtle references to a whole host of Bond films which even I noticed. If you’re a fan you could probably play Bond bingo. Some people in the audience were laughing, but I found them as grating as the self-referencing jokes in The Dark Knight Rises.
The second is the product placement. The good news is, it isn’t quite as blatant and in your face as in the first two movies, but it is still there and it is still in your face. From what I noticed, there was the beer, the glasses, the watch, the computers, the cars, and I’m sure there’s a whole host of things I’m missing. But what I didn’t miss was that literally half of the adverts before the trailers were for Bond products. There was the watch, obviously. And the beer. And a Bond-specific movie channel. And the 007 cologne. And a host of other things. All of those are real. Yes, even the 007 cologne.
Personally, I think advertising in general, and product placement in particular, are evil. But I also understand that is a reality of the world in which we live. However, having had such prominent placement in the previous films and a big in-your-face one in the opening scenes I find it hard not to keep searching them out. So when there was a big emotional scene, I was thinking “yep, make sure the watch is in a prominent position out front”. Cynical? Yes. Wrong? Unfortunately, probably not.
One final thing, I found the narrative to lack any real sort of drive. Each particular bit was pretty good, but the driving force seemed to be the need to drive the film forward, rather than being driven by the characters. That’s why Bond is left for dead about half-a-dozen times and no-one seems to learn their lesson. There was very much a sense, in my mind at least, of the creators sitting down and saying “we need to get to x, so we’ll make this guy do y even though it doesn’t make sense either logically, or to the essence of the character.”
So, you can probably tell that I didn’t like it. But I should stress the reason I didn’t like it was that there were a thousand tiny things that irritated me all the way through, and the stupid reveal right at the end really had me boiling with rage, particularly as I’m vaguely aware of it conflicting with something from Casino Royale.
I saw it with a friend who isn’t particularly fussed about Bond and he really enjoyed it. Saying that, he really enjoyed Prometheus and I was sent on a similar trip of movie-rage about the flaws in that film. So, if you just want to see a stupid action movie then you’ll have a really good time. If you’re a fan of the Bond films, and the last two in particular, you will absolutely love this . I am in no doubt about that. And at the end of the day, despite all my vitriol and irritation at the thing, that is all that matters.
Grade: (Bond fans and people who don’t hate Bond) A
Grade: (people who really don’t like Bond for the exact reasons I don’t like Bond) D
by Steve Habrat
I’m glad I let Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy marinate in my mind for a few hours before I sat down to hammer out a review of it. I emerged from the matinee showing with my head spinning and my brain scrambling to put the pieces of this puzzle together. I was so hastily trying to wrap my head around what I had just seen. I was initially let down by it and to think I was so excited to see this smoky, earth toned espionage thriller that looked like it was ripped out of the 1970s. I thought it would be full of thrills and white-knuckle moments. Folks, I’m here to tell you it’s not what you think it is. Despite passing itself off as a Cold War spy flick, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about the men that were causalities of this war that consisted of suspicion and heightened awareness of the individual at your side. Accusations flew in place of bullets. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about bombed out egos rather than bombed out cities. If character studies and talky dramas turn you off, either wait until this film is at your local Red Box or skip it entirely. If you are willing to let it into your brain, you will find it slowly creeping down your spine hours after you see it.
Set in 1973, retired British Intelligence agent George Smiley is lured out of retirement by Oliver Lacon (Played by Simon McBurney), the civil servant in charge of intelligence, to investigate a mole who has infiltrated intelligence and has apparently been there for years. Smiley teams up with fleeing agent Ricki Tarr (Played by Tom Hardy) and intelligence officer Peter Guillam (Played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and together they launch an investigation aimed at the new Chief of the Circus Percy Alleline (Played by Toby Jones), his deputy Bill Haydon (Played by Colin Firth), and his allies Roy Bland (Played by Ciarán Hinds) and Toby Esterhause (Played by David Dencik). Smiley begins meeting with individuals who were forced out of positions due to their suspicions and accusations, now left in ruin and haunted by what the know. Along the journey, Smiley tries to repair his shattered past and come to terms with his demons that silently plague him.
While it is certainly a droll film in it’s first forty-five minutes, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy finally sets things in motion when more layers begin to peel away. The one aspect I really liked in the beginning was the fact that Smiley barely spoke any dialogue and he lets his world-weary face do all the work. His eyes are cartoonishly enlarged behind his thick-rimmed specs and his mouth slightly opens as if he is about to let a thought out but he quickly remembers to cage it back up. He is a curious one. When he does speak, he has a raspy and weary voice to fit his somnolent eyes, though his words have been dipped in thick globs of confidence. Oldman does a terrific job with Smiley and he will certainly get an Oscar nomination for his aloof portrayal of John le Carré’s heartbroken spy. I found myself replaying the scenes of Smiley strolling through the misty, dingy streets of Cold War London or Smiley sitting alone in his apartment as the television chirps in the background. There is a knock at the door and in response, his head slightly turns, and this is when we get a quick glimpse at his broken and lonely heart.
The rest of the supporting players in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy hold up quite well next to the slow burn of Oldman’s Smiley. This is, afterall, a character piece. Firth’s Bill Haydon is a standout, providing some small bursts of humor in the relentlessly dreary atmosphere. Hardy’s Ricki Tarr seems like he will be the tough guy but Hardy has the good sense to show us that even tough guys have a breaking point. Jones’ Percy Alleline is a supercilious and loose cannon little twerp who you would never dare cross (even if he only stands at 5’5”). What is fascinating about these men, who all appear to be working on the same side, is that if their eyes were daggers, no one would be left standing. They sit around in a smoky boardroom and stare each other down, loose their cools, stomp off, and sulk. And yet Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy holds the moments where we see them fall victim to all the suspicion, accusations, and attempts at ruin. They collapse when the chips are down and it is almost worse than any of the actually carnage that the film shows us.
Behind all the cigarette smoke and glaring actors, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy offers us eye-popping art direction, allowing Cold War London to really come alive. At times, I felt that the sets were actually characters in the movie. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is also shrouded in a film noir atmosphere and the only thing missing is a femme fatale to lure these men to their fate. Director Tomas Alfredson has made a film that slowly grows in the hours after it has been seen, coaxing you back to uncover more. It is watered by your own puzzlement over it and your drive to want to put it all together. The film never resorts to gunfights or fists fights and it only builds excitement through heated exchange. The downfall of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is that the film sometimes seems unsure how to actually build that suspense and the narrative gets caught up in itself. Talky and arty with a nifty old school swag, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy works better as a portrait of wrecked men rather than as a chilly espionage mystery.