Posts Tagged ‘Izabella Scorupco’

In recent times we’ve had to become accustomed to the Bond franchise taking mini-breaks on a fairly regular basis (mainly due to the travails of movie studios and the occasional row about creative direction) but for nearly thirty years it was one of the most reliable series out there, with never a break of more than three years between films. So the non-appearance of any new Bond for half a decade in the early 90s was a bit of a shock. Coupled to the relative underperformance of the ill-liked Timothy Dalton films, and some fairly major geopolitical upheavals occurring in the same period, and some observers were even heard to suggest that time had finally run out and the fabled licence to kill had expired.

So when the production of Martin Campbell’s GoldenEye was finally announced in 1994, I was a little relieved, even if the casting of Pierce Brosnan as Bond wasn’t something I was over the moon about. This was a movie which would inevitably have big expectations upon it, and for me Brosnan was really more of a light comedian or romantic lead, just a bit too smooth and lightweight for the role. (I always say that everyone has the right to be wrong sometimes, and as you can see that’s an informed opinion.)

As it turned out, of course, GoldenEye emerged as a new kind of Bond film and the most entertaining in a very long time. To begin with, it’s not afraid to be resolutely traditional, with a lengthy teaser depicting Bond and fellow agent Trevelyan (Sean Bean) infiltrating a Soviet weapons facility. The mission goes bad and only Bond escapes.

Nine years and the collapse of the Soviet Union later, Bond happens to be in the area when an experimental helicopter is stolen by the beautiful but rather psychopathic Xenia Onatopp (gotta love these Bond movie names), a breakthrough role for Famke Janssen. However, Bond’s boss (Her Majesty Judi Dench) doesn’t consider this very significant, which turns out to be a mistake as said chopper is used almost at once to steal the control elements of a Russian satellite weapon codenamed GoldenEye.

(Bond swot points will, of course, be awarded for knowing that the title GoldenEye is ultimately derived from the name of Ian Fleming’s holiday home. Really ridiculous swot points will be further be awarded for knowing that the holiday home in question appears to have been christened in turn after a breed of duck.)

Apparently out of a general disapproval of this sort of thing rather than any particular British strategic interest, Bond is sent to Saint Petersburg to find the stolen weapon and sort out the criminals involved. Along the way there are, inevitably, a couple of dodgy helpers (Robbie Coltrane and Joe Don Baker), a devotchka in distress (Izabella Scorupco), an exploding pen and a watch which shoots laser beams.

One doesn’t often get the chance to say this about a Bond film but GoldenEye is a very intelligent movie, mainly in the way it’s aware of the audience’s expectations and is extremely diligent about meeting them. It works very hard to establish Brosnan as Bond from the start, sticking him first in the Aston Martin from Goldfinger and then in a succession of stock Bond situations – the car chase, the incidental shag, the casino sequence, sparring with the bad guy. The end result is that you don’t have much choice but to accept Brosnan as the character – who else could he be? It helps a lot that both actor and script willingly embrace the essential absurdity of Bond and don’t try to make him all edgy and realistic.

That said, one of the things that makes Pierce Brosnan such a great Bond is the way he manages to strike a balance between so many different elements and synthesize them into a single characterisation. In the past I’ve said that Brosnan is well aware he’s playing an icon and treats the part as such – he has some of Connery’s swagger and some of Moore’s unflappability, and even occasionally some of Dalton’s intensity. He is the composite Bond par excellence, even if in this film he hasn’t quite got the look of the character right (hair too long and some dodgy wardrobe choices near the start).

One of GoldenEye‘s concessions to modern sensibilities is in its attempt to at least make a token exploration of Bond’s character from a vaguely realistic point of view. ‘You’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur,’ M tells Bond quite early on, which is quite a brave move given this is the kind of criticism the character’s always drawn. No attempt is made to rebut these charges, of course, as there is obviously some truth to them! And later on there’s a scene in which we see Bond deep in thought as he ponders the fact he’ll soon have to kill a former friend, which leads to a moderately earnest discussion of his reluctance to really get emotionally close to people. This scene does hit a bit of a bum note – on first viewing, the friend I was with leaned over and whispered ‘Here we go, New Man Bond time’ before it had even got started – and this may be why this sort of thing didn’t reappear in the other Brosnan films.

The first half of GoldenEye may be extremely deftly made, with enormous skill and wit, but it is still really just karaoke Bond for the most part, and knowingly so. It doesn’t take the character or the series anywhere genuinely new. All this changes when James Bond climbs into a T-54 tank and, in pursuit of the bad guys, proceeds to demolish large areas of Saint Petersburg. This whole sequence is bursting with a sort of boisterous delight in its own destructiveness and takes place on a scale not seen in a Bond film for many, many years. Political relevance and character insights are nice things to have around, but these movies are really about action, wit, and guilty pleasure and the tank chase delivers them in spades, demonstrating exactly why there was still a place for Bond at the heart of popular culture.

It’s such a great sequence that the rest of the film seems slightly disappointing as a result, something of a return to the Bond formula. But this is only relatively speaking, of course. The film continues as solidly as it started, eventually arriving at an appropriately pyrotechnic conclusion. If the mention of Guantanamo Bay in the closing seconds seems a little jarring, well, that just shows that the world keeps changing even if Bond himself stays largely immutable.

There are so many other good things about this film, from Martin Campbell’s direction – it’s easy to see why they brought him back to introduce Daniel Craig’s Bond – to the supporting performances. Robbie Coltrane is obviously enjoying himself a lot, while Joe Don Baker appears to simply be reprising his performance as CIA loose cannon Darius Jedburgh from Campbell’s Edge of Darkness. The only element of the film which seems questionable is Eric Serra’s soundtrack – clearly Serra’s been employed on the strength of his work on Leon, and the music here bears a resemblance to that score. He treats the Bond theme as something to be tinkered with and deployed in different forms, almost like a motif, which brings variable results, and sticks a fairly objectionable soft-rock ballad over the closing credits on which he himself provides the vocals. It’s not entirely surprising David Arnold was brought on board for the next film.

As I’ve mentioned before, GoldenEye is probably my favourite of the Brosnan Bonds, which as time goes by seem more and more to occupy their own niche in the history of the franchise. In the earlier films there’s a continuity of style, up to a point, even when the lead actor changes, with the films evolving without a great deal of self-consciousness. But with GoldenEye the series suddenly seems to become aware of its own traditions and staples and even cliches, and also its reputation and iconic status. The defining characteristic of the Brosnan films, for me, is the way that they’re so knowing about these things in the way that they meet them, play with them, and occasionally subvert them. Coupled to Brosnan’s constantly entertaining lead performance, the result is a set of films of a consistently high quality, and at least as rewarding to watch as any in the history of the franchise.

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From the Hootoo Archive. Originally published September 19th, 2002:

Regular partakers of this column may well feel a twinge of déjà vu as for the second week running we look at a film in which the aforementioned Texan thesp shows up as a nutter with a big axe [the previous week featured a review of Frailty – A]. This time it’s Rob Bowman’s Reign Of Fire, an odd but rather entertaining aspiring blockbuster…

Reign Of Fire kicks off in contemporary London as schoolboy Quinn Abercrombie (Ben Thornton) – yeah, like that’s a real name! – visits his mum (Her Cybernetic Majesty Alice Krige), a site engineer on the London Underground. The transport authority clearly don’t have a clue about proper health and safety procedures as not only is Quinn allowed to wander about without even a hard-hat, but they also have no idea what to do when they accidentally disturb one of your actual giant fire-breathing dragons from its hibernation. Obviously one of the irritable-when-roused type, the dragon toasts the place and flies off, leaving Quinn the only survivor.

Fast-forward to 2020, and the now-grown Quinn has turned into Christian Bale and developed a terrible Cock-Er-Knee accent. The dragon and its spawn have crushed civilization as we know it and Quinn is leading a small community of survivors, holed up in northern England. The people are starving (though Bale’s pecs look well-nourished enough), and the isolation and lack of contact with other groups is wearing at them: ‘we haven’t heard from Norwich in two years,‘ someone says, if nothing else proving that even the worst post-apocalypse is not without the odd silver lining.

But then who should appear to save the day than barmy US army dragonslayer Van Zan (McConaughey) and his army of followers (‘if there’s one thing worse than dragons, it’s Americans‘), who inevitably include beautiful pilot Alex (Izabella Scorupco – a rare example of an ex-Bond girl getting to play the love interest in a big studio release). Van Zan’s in Britain because he has a plan to solve the dragon problem once and for all – and Quinn’s going to help, whether he likes it or not…

Reign Of Fire is kept from being a really first-class piece of hokum by its script, which is a bit perfunctory and poorly paced, and by its budget, which obviously isn’t as expansive as the writer and director had hoped for. A film can overcome one of these problems, but not both together. The most obvious example here is in the sequence linking the present day prologue with the main part of the film – we’re told, through voice-over, graphics, and stock-footage, that the dragons destroyed all the existing governments and systems of authority, despite the vast military arsenals which would surely have been employed against them. It’s asking a lot of the audience to make this a fundamental part of the film’s background, and what’s worse is that we don’t even get to see the dragons torching any major landmarks or otherwise actually doing it. I’d prefer sense to spectacle, but I would like at least one of the two to make an appearance. The end result is perhaps too much post- and not enough apocalypse.

There are other problems in Reign Of Fire, of course, but they all stem from one or other of the two flaws mentioned above. The CGI is a bit iffy, resulting in some rather manky-looking dragons, and the climax is a bit of a damp squib (the money appears to have been running out). But there’s still a huge amount to enjoy here, if you can suspend your disbelief: it’s engaging played, with solid performances from most of the cast (Bale and Krige’s accents excluded). Gerard Butler is pretty good as Quinn’s best mate, and sharp-eyed Trekkies will spot Alexander Siddig in the crowd from time to time. But McConaughey steals the acting honours with a marvellously looney turn as Van Zan.

It’s not all in the acting, either – post-apocalypse England is rather well put on (excepting some of the CGI, as mentioned above), and for all its weaknesses the script serves up some very nice moments – my favourite being a wonderful scene where Quinn and his mates entertain the community’s kids by re-enacting scenes from The Empire Strikes Back by candlelight. Bowman’s direction is solid enough, and the whole thing has a rather bleak and sombre mood, a refreshing change from most blockbusters. I enjoyed Reign Of Fire a lot – worth seeing, if you’re willing to cut it some slack.

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