By Marc S. Sanders

Skyfall is a great James Bond film. One of the best. However, …it has one major shortcoming that always gnaws at me. Regrettably, it has a contrived middle section that steals some of the magic away from the film. Yes, for a moment, my suspension of disbelief is robbed from me.

Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007 has become a favorite among fans and movie goers. Craig is magnificent in a primarily dramatic turn in the part. Following a fantastic action packed opening where Bond pursues an assassin through the streets of Istanbul, Turkey (widely known as a favorite locale of Ian Fleming), the chase involves cars, motorcycles, rooftops, fruit stands and trains for well edited shootouts and fist fights. Alas, the assassin gets away and Bond is left for dead.

Following an attempt on the life of M (Judi Dench in her absolute best portrayal in the role), Bond returns for active duty. However, he’s not what he used to be. His aim is off and his body is worn. The question remains if Bond is ready to be back in the field.

The plot centers on a bitter former MI6 agent named Silva (Javier Bardem in a potentially Oscar worthy performance) out to seek revenge on M for the sins he believes she’s committed.

It’s funny. The Austin Powers films, and even film critic Roger Ebert, would always draw attention to the fact the villain would just longingly speechify when they have all the time in the world to just shoot Bond dead and move on with their devious plot. Silva is a response to that issue. He has a mutual respect for Bond, and you can see he’d rather keep him alive for the time being to allow the game to keep running. It’s not said outright, mind you. Yet that’s what I took away from the character. A superbly written monologue to introduce Silva at the midway point of the film compares him and Bond to the last of two rats surviving a trap. Which rat will win out?

It’s also quite special that Bardem shapes his villainous role with a homosexual tendency. Silva is fashionable and proudly dons a bleach blonde hairstyle. He gleefully rubs Bond’s legs and opens his shirt to examine his scarred chest, pronouncing that Bond must ponder his “training” at the moment. Silva is beyond the typical femme fatale. It’s different and it’s time the Bond franchise acknowledges the differences in people. A welcome trait for a major character.

The plot set up of Skyfall‘s devices are ingenious in simplicity with a basic revenge tale but also with broadening the legacy and responsibilities of the M character. What Casino Royale did for a story arc for James Bond, Skyfall does for M, and with Dench in the role it works beautifully. She must answer to superiors, like a very welcome Ralph Fiennes, for the death of several agents and a bombing of MI6 headquarters. She must resist the pressure of early retirement. This is the most that M has ever had to contend with personally, and it’s here at last.

My one reservation with the film occurs just after the midway point. Silva somehow arranged to get apprehended and then managed to escape, don a police uniform, travel through London’s tube, and time an explosion on a runaway train ready to crash into James Bond who is on his trail. Thereafter, he’s able to locate the interrogation session where M is making a public statement in her defense and try to kill her. There are way too many factors at play that work too conveniently to Silva’s advantage. It’s a tension filled sequence. It looks great. It has great action and effects, but it’s overly contrived. I wish the script from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan made this middle section a little more believable.

Sam Mendes (American Beauty) directs a terrific, action-packed film filled with more drama and minimal tongue in cheek that the series is primarily known for. I was grateful for the more serious Bond. Like the other Craig installments as well as the Dalton films, Skyfall offers a different and fresher approach.

Granted the ending plays more like an Arnold Schwarzenegger action piece from the 1980/90s, but it’s highly entertaining, well edited and well shot, nonetheless.

I highly recommend Skyfall for its outstanding cast that also includes Ben Whishaw as a nerdy variation of Q, the gadget man, and Naomie Harris in a secret role that has a satisfying payoff. As well, the standard revenge story works quite well here when you have Bardem, Fiennes, Craig and most especially Dench doing some really top notch acting with terrific dialogue. Mendes is a stage director first, and it shows quite admirably here.

Again, Skyfall is not the best Bond film but it’s at least one of the best.


By Marc S. Sanders

Joel and Ethan Coen have an odd collection of films under their belt. No Country For Old Men, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel is no exception. You’re likely to meet the oddest hit man you’ve experienced in a film. (Reader, I’m going under the presumption you’ve never encountered a normal or odd hit man in real life. If you survived long enough to read this passage, you are truly blessed.)

Anton Chigrh follows a discipline that likely no one ever taught him. His code is to continue until he finds what he’s looking for and dispose of any lead in his ongoing quest. His weapon of choice-an air gun hose connected to an oxygen tank. It’s instant in serving its purpose. Its sound is quick and jarring.

Javier Bradem delivers an Oscar winning performance as Chigrh in search of $2 million when Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) takes possession of it after coming upon the sight of a drug deal gone bad.

Tommy Lee Jones is perhaps one of the old men in the title. A Texas sheriff not surprised by the carnage he comes upon, but not of much use either. I think he regrets that he can never do more or better and simply can only surmise what’s already been done. I gathered that especially from a scene depicted in a hotel room during the third act of the film. His approach on the scene and his need to sit down translate that for me. His periodic anecdotes during the course of the film seem to say so as well. This sheriff has likely never rescued anyone from harm despite how intuitive he may be.

The Coen Brothers are never shy with blood. A lot of directors are not, really. Yet with the Coens, it seems the bloodshed is disturbingly honest. The instant splatter and flow following another act by Chigrh couldn’t be more truthful. They tell this tale very well, never concerning themselves with how unsettling they can be. Sun filled deserts are not comfortable. Evenings are sleepless. Blood is dark, thick, sticky, messy.

Moss is a hunter who has no idea what he’s up against. Brolin plays him with quiet reservation. He could not resist the urge to take the bag of money, but he also knows he’ll pay for it as well. When he realizes there’s no way to escape, by even crossing the border, he can only try to kill the devil incarnate. He’s likely aware of how this will all play out though.

Among this trio of fine actors (with Woody Harrelson also briefly in the fold), the film is nevertheless celebrated for Bardem. Whenever the story returns to Chigrh, you sit up in your chair a little more alert. He’s got disturbing dialogue exchanges with those he encounters and Bardem’s method makes you wish you never have to decide your fate with a coin toss.

No Country For Old Men is not an action film. The pace takes its time, invested in three men with respective histories who cannot change what their meant for. No incident will change their lifestyles. They are meant to be an assassin, a washed-up lawman, and a poor country hunter. Until they die, no moment in time will alter their caricatures. That’s what I took from the Coens’ Best Picture winner.

I appreciate its honesty.