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An unusually complex, very exciting old-style Bond
on 3 September 2010
This is one of my favourite Bond movies for a variety of reasons:
Bond is at perhaps his most revealing and complex in a long time, Brosnan playing him with a depth and nuance not usually seen. We get him pressing his luck with his affectionate but highly respectful relationship with Judi Dench's brilliant 'M'. We also get him showing vulnerability (and injury). And in the same film, in one astounding scene that's over in seconds, he somehow manages to convey loss, regret, devotion to country, and a real sense of Ian Fleming's 'assassin' all at the same time. A man who WILL kill for country. Not since Roger Moore's car-meets foot-meets cliff scene in 'For Your Eyes Only' has such surprising ruthlessness to meet his goal reared its head in a Bond movie, and it's hugely the better for it.
Judi Dench is given much to do in this adventure, which is welcome as her portrayal has a steely dignity and occasional softness that makes her highly watchable.
On the supporting character front, the film marks the swan song of Desmond Lewellyn's wonderful 'Q', and his exit is all the more poignant for a) being dignified, and interesting rather than emotional, and b) knowing that he passed away shortly afterwards.
John Cleese is humorous as his proposed replacement, but feels like little more than a well played buffoon role.
The film opens with a very lengthy pre-credit sequence, which is perhaps one of the best in the Bond series. As Bond brutally relieves corrupt Swiss bankers of their ill-gotten gains, the plot unexpectedly twists, and he eventually ends up in a spectacular speedboat chase on the Thames, which thunderously ends only to meet 'Garbage's nicely handled and memorable opening theme song.
The main villain in the film is played nicely by Robert Carlyle, as a lethal and fanatical anarchist of mysterious aims. His unique selling point? A bullet is lodged in his brain, the result of a botched assassination attempt, which has paradoxically rendered him unable to feel pain and made him even more cold-blooded and lethal - and it soon seems like he's after Sophie Marceau's Elektra King.
As a family friend and possible target, 'M' wants her protected. Marceau is gorgeously glamorous, and captivating viewing, her character granted a little more depth than usual - as indeed is almost everybody in the film. That is except for Denise Richards' ludicrous 'nuclear scientist' who spends most of the film in tight shorts and busty tops. Looking great but playing it as it's written, she seems to get the gag that she's the chesty girl who we're not really supposed to believe is a brainbox, and so she helps Brosnan milk the occasional comedy lines for all they're worth.
Carlyle is surprisingly deep and emotional as the conflicted and dangerous killer, and the set pieces are terrific. There are snowmobile-paraglider chases, ski-chases, a fantastic high-tension action piece in a nuclear bunker, the list goes on and on. But the best thing is the plot - taut, emotionally driven, and played to the hilt by better actors than would usually be lavished on an action film.
The setting, tension and drama of the finale are all perfectly handled as well.
An incredible package, made even more special by somehow perfectly snaring that old-fashioned feeling of daring, high danger and adventure that all the best old Bond films used to have. A true great in the series.