I’ve heard it said that the only James Bond film that matters is the one released when you’re in high school. Certainly that’s true for me. During the era of the “gritty reboot,” 007 reintroduced himself in the form of the intense but soft-spoken Daniel Craig, clearly relishing the role with a sense of fun and wit and physicality that would be diminished in his later appearances.
Watching this movie actually made me kind of nostalgic and emotional, bringing me back to when I was 18. That, in turn, made me vulnerable and receptive to the film’s emotional final hour, which works nearly as well as all the action and espionage that is, of course, the main attraction.
We meet James Bond here as a green rookie, given his double-0 status and his “license to kill.” This newness will be a central part of his arc this film, his first real mission, as it becomes very believable that he’s emotionally invested in its every twist and character and outcome.
He has as his foe, an incredible counterpart in Vesper. Eva Green is a show-stealer in this, electric and beautiful — her sharpness bringing out something doe-eyed in Craig’s performance. She’s a perfect foil. Vesper is easily the best Bond girl, in my opinion, even if the chain of double-crosses and deceptions surrounding her convoluted by the film’s end, strangling the film’s emotional arc with twists when an uncomplicated haymaker would have worked just fine.
The set pieces are nearly all outstanding, from the opening parkour through the final sinking house in Venice. Even the oft-derided poker segments hold up pretty well: It offers good drama and a potent mix of charisma and acting styles, even as it drags on a bit long.
The poker scene is also the best moment for the villain Le Chiffe, a breakout performance for Mads Mikkelsen, who would become one of the acclaimed actors of the late 2010s. He simply oozes danger and charisma (as his eyes ooze blood).
Stylistically and tonally, this is not a flashy movie, nor is it especially gritty. It is simply muscular and attractive, the visceral action scenes blending together very well with the talky ones.
The film’s biggest problem is that it’s almost 145 minutes long, which is The Devil’s Runtime when it comes to blockbusters. Trim it down, people.
But it more or less earns that length. The plot is busy, with a few tonal and narrative reboots, but interesting for the duration. Nearly every scene has me saying “this is a good part!” But maybe that’s just my inner 18 year old speaking.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100