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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Carlyle’

We have, in the past, occasionally discussed some of the more unusual and esoteric aspects of film production, not least what all the money actually gets spent on. One envisages a sort of pie chart, with various slices set aside for the actors, director, scriptwriters, costume department, and so on. Of course, occasionally a film comes along where one slice of pie is disproportionately large, compared to all the others – occasionally a small and unassuming film pays big bucks for a major star, for instance, or you get a big special effects-driven film where two-thirds of the budget goes on the CGI. Danny Boyle’s Yesterday must have a fairly unique sort of pie, as a good 40% of the budget went on negotiating music clearances. This sounds wildly extravagant until you learn what the film is about, at which point it becomes clear why they stumped up all the money – without the uncanny potency of cheap music (or not so cheap, in this case), this film wouldn’t be being made.

Himesh Patel plays Jack, an aspiring singer-songwriter who is slowly starting to realise that he just hasn’t got what it takes to become successful as an artist. Pretty much the only thing that keeps him gigging is the unconditional support and belief of his friend Ellie (Lily James), with whom he has a close but entirely platonic relationship (shush now, I know, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

Then, cycling home one night after deciding to pack it all in, Jack falls off his bike during a brief global blackout. He awakes sans beard and a couple of teeth, but fairly soon discovers that something rather odd has happened: he seems to be the only person in the world with any memory of the Beatles or their music. He very rapidly realises that suddenly having unique and (apparently) exclusive access to a priceless stash of some of the most perfect pop songs ever written is a boon to a struggling musician like him, and is soon frantically trying to remember the lyrics to Let It Be and I Want to Hold Your Hand so he can pass them off as his own work.

Pretty soon the music industry comes calling, and he is summoned off to Los Angeles by his demonic new manager Debra (Kate McKinnon), accompanied only by his idiot roadie Rocky (Joel Fry). It seems like his success is forcing him apart from Ellie and whatever deeper feelings they may secretly have for each other. But is it really ethical to keep ripping off the Beatles and taking all the credit? And shouldn’t he be taking a moment to consider The Important Things in Life?

Yesterday represents a coming together of two of the great powers of what passes for the British film industry: it is directed by Danny Boyle, whom even I will happily concede has made some really great films in the past, and written by Richard Curtis, who has been a huge figure in British cultural life for decades now. Given their involvement and the strength of the film’s premise (it is intriguing, to say the least), you could be forgiven for expecting this to be one of the more substantial films of the summer.

Folks, it ain’t. This is as lightweight and disposable as low-sugar candyfloss, to the point where the film’s refusal to engage with its own ideas becomes actively irritating. What it basically is, is another outing for that well-worn fable about a young man whose head is turned by the prospect of material success, but must make the choice between that and The Important Things in Life – in this case, true love and personal integrity. Bolted onto this are various scenes that feel like comedy sketches of rather variable quality.

It feels rather odd that they have spent $10 million on rights clearances for Beatles songs, when the Beatles themselves feel rather peripheral to the movie. There’s a sense, surely, in which the whole point of this kind of film is to make you realise just how massively significant and important the band were and remain; the hole left by their absence is a memorial to their contribution to society and culture. Except, not here: the Beatles vanish from history and yet the world spins on almost entirely unchanged. Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and Coldplay are still there, unaffected; society has not been affected at all. The film almost seems to be suggesting that the Beatles have no substantive legacy whatsoever (I should still mention that one of Yesterday‘s best jokes is that the only other band who seem to have vanished in the Beatles-free universe is Oasis).

And what’s going on here, anyway? What has changed, and why? (It’s not just the Beatles that have disappeared.) How come the Beatles apparently never got together? Why is Jack (apparently) unique in remembering a world with all their songs in it? Would the Beatles’ songs still be successful if they were released today as ‘new’ music? There is potential here for a rather different and probably much more interesting film about the alt-hist of the new universe Jack seems to have tumbled into (he appears to have a weird form of reverse amnesia, remembering things that never actually happened), and there is one eerie sequence in particular with an uncredited Robert Carlyle which sort of touches on this without ever really properly exploring it. I was really left wanting more, for the film to explore its premise in a more systematic way, but it doesn’t come close to truly delivering on this. It’s just a facilitator for a hackneyed rom-com plot and some comedy sketches.

Still, it is at least played with gusto and sincerity by most of the cast, even if none of them looks set to get the kind of career boost from it that actors have enjoyed from previous Boyle or Curtis productions. Perhaps this is because neither man seems to have been willing or able to really set his stamp on it – it’s not as stylistically distinctive as the best Danny Boyle films, nor does it have the humour or heart of Curtis’ best scripts. That said, Kate McKinnon works her usual off-the-leash comic sorcery and the film lifts whenever she’s on screen – but I fear I must also report that the movie also features a James Corden cameo and a fairly extensive supporting role for Ed Sheeran (Sheeran seems to be one of those people who’s unconvincing as an actor even when he’s playing himself).

By far the best moments of Yesterday come when the film-makers relax and just let the songs speak for themselves without attempting to do anything too clever or iconoclastic with them. The whole point of the film should really be about what an awful place the world would be without great music and great art, and how we shouldn’t take these things for granted. It’s a point that it never properly manages to make, but the music itself is lovely enough to remind you of that fact. The music of the Beatles is timeless and beautiful; Yesterday never quite manages to do it justice, but it’s a pleasant enough film even if it’s inevitably a bit of a disappointment given its pedigree.

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If you are of roughly the same vintage as I am and from the UK, then there’s a good chance that you have Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting seared into your brain as an undeniable cultural landmark. For a few months in 1996, Trainspotting was inescapably ubiquitous: you couldn’t move for posters of an emaciated, soaked Ewan McGregor, or songs off the soundtrack turning up everywhere, or people ripping off its very distinctive energy and style – it feels like half the bad British crime films and comedies of the late 90s and early 2000s are largely motivated by a hamfisted attempt to emulate Danny Boyle. Boyle himself went on to be arguably Britain’s most successful film director, McGregor went on to be a Jedi Knight, and most of the other lead cast members did pretty well for themselves, to say the least.

And I say this as someone who was initially rather dubious about the film (I hadn’t been especially impressed with Boyle’s previous movie, Shallow Grave) and only really came to it via Irvine Welsh’s book. I haven’t watched the movie in at least ten years and probably much longer, mainly because I suspect the nostalgic associations would be almost too much to bear, but the memory of it is still enormously vivid: Iggy Pop singing ‘Lust for Life’ at the start, Underworld doing ‘Born Slippy’ at the end, and in between the bit with the toilet, the bit with the linen, the bit with the OD and Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’, and all the rest of it too.

You mess about with this kind of beloved cultural artefact at your peril, which is why I think I was a bit surprised to hear a sequel was in the works – Boyle didn’t seem like a sequel-friendly kind of guy, anyway (although I have my fingers crossed for another bio-zombie film) – but nevertheless, here it is: the oddly-monikered T2 Trainspotting. A bit late for the 20th anniversary of the original, but that’s what you get for associating your movie with the rail network, I suppose.

t2-trainspotting-uk-poster

Two decades have passed for the characters, too, as the new film gets underway: Renton (McGregor) has used the £12,000 of drug money he stole from his friends at the climax of the first one to lay the foundations of a fairly conventional existence in Amsterdam. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) has abandoned heroin in favour of cocaine and is working in the hospitality industry, with a projected side-line in blackmail. The hapless Spud (Ewen Bremner) has been unable to establish himself in society, partly due to his inability to come to terms with daylight savings, and is eking out a tenuous existence as a recovering addict. Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle), on the other hand, has spent the last twenty years at Her Majesty’s Pleasure – sometimes that’s the price of being a violent psychopath.

The quartet are drawn back together when Renton returns to Edinburgh for personal reasons and tries to reach out to Spud and Sick Boy. Both of them express their emotions at seeing him again loudly and robustly, but soon he is helping Sick Boy and his partner Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) in their scheme to raise the funds for a ‘sauna’, with Spud recruited to help with the interior design. But Begbie has managed to execute a characteristically unhinged escape plan and is back on the streets again, and when he learns Renton is back in town, he has only revenge on his mind…

The original Trainspotting was, as I say, a real case of a group of people managing to catch lightning in a bottle, and the new movie doesn’t seem to have serious aspirations to match its impact – indeed, part of what the film is about is coming to terms with the fact that time moves on and your life changes, and that a person in their twenties has many more options than someone in their forties. What happened at the end of the first film seems to have sent all four main characters into a state of arrested development, so they are still largely defined by events from when they were young men, desperately nostalgic for the time of the first film when the pathways of their lives were still much more open. This is at least in part a necessary storytelling conceit, in order for them all to still be recognisably the same characters, but it’s also rich territory for the film to explore.

And it does so impressively. There are all the usual directorial whistles and bells from Boyle, which are no less than we’ve come to expect, and the nature of the project means he can employ all kinds of call-backs to the first film, some subtle, some obvious and knowing. There’s a degree of playfulness in the way the new film toys with audience expectations – elements of music from the original occasionally insert themselves into the soundtrack, and at one point a character sits down with his old vinyl copy of ‘Lust for Life’ but can’t bear to listen to more than the first split-second of it – but the film itself feels vital and relevant rather than merely nostalgic itself.

The plot is less digressive this time around, but John Hodge’s screenplay turns on a sixpence between moments of drama, black humour, and even suspense. It is all quite monumentally profane, and frequently rather vile, but also extremely funny and intelligent. There’s a moment of supreme comedy when Renton and Sick Boy sneak into a sectarian pub night, intent on robbing the attendees, and find themselves having to perform an improvised musical number instead – if there’s a funnier single scene this year, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Ultimately, though, this is quite a serious film about coming to terms with your youth, and its passing, and understanding how in thrall you can be to your own history. Boyle has said it is a film about masculinity, and that’s true, but it’s simply the case that most of his returning characters here are male (Kelly Macdonald returns as Renton’s old partner Diane, but only briefly). The film comes to life as well as it does because of the strength of the performances from all the key players – if nothing else, this movie is a reminder (to UK cinema audiences, at least) of what a very effective actor Jonny Lee Miller can be, given the right material. Anjela Nedyalkova also makes a good impression, given the calibre of the people she’s in the middle of.

I suspect the minimum intention for Trainspotting 2 was for it not to slime the memory of the original: well, I would say mission accomplished, and then some. Like the best of Boyle’s work, it manages to be entertaining while remaining thoughtful, realistic without being bleak. In the end, it suggests, life goes on, one way or another. So choose life.

Or choose movies. Choose good movies. Choose a great sequel. Choose this sequel.

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Once upon a time, if you were an actor of any standing whatsoever, you would not be seen dead appearing on TV: you went on the stage if you wanted respect, and in front of the cinema cameras if you were more interested in intangible stardom and cold hard cash. Times change, of course, and – the stage notwithstanding – we are informed on a fairly regular basis that films are no longer Where It Is At, and that the location of Atness is in fact now television. The fact that this is usually said by actors famous from the cinema, but now to be found popping up in productions on the smaller screen, is surely neither here nor there. The stigma of the glass bucket seems to have abated somewhat, anyway.

One of those actors who once verged on the ubiquitous but hasn’t been seen in films much recently is Robert Carlyle, who hasn’t had much of a cinema presence since the mid-late 2000s: and even then, perhaps it’s not unreasonable to suggest that his movie career never quite lived up to the promise of his early appearances in Trainspotting, The Full Monty, and The World Is Not Enough. He has, of course, been off in TV Land all this time, but now he has popped back for his debut movie as a director, The Legend of Barney Thomson.

THE LEGEND OF BARNEY THOMPSON

Carlyle himself plays Thomson, a middle-aged Glaswegian barber whose progress through life becomes bumpy when his lack of natural charisma and somewhat mournful appearance (‘you look like a haunted tree,’ he is helpfully informed) begin to drive away the customers. His boss eventually has enough and gives Barney his notice, which causes him some agitation and results in the entirely accidental, though extremely suspicious-looking, death of his employer.

Rather than risk fessing up to the police, Barney ends up stashing the corpse in the flat of his elderly mother (Emma Thompson). The one piece of good fortune he has, if you can call it that, is that a serial killer is already making a habit of dismembering the flower of Glasgow’s manhood and sending various bits of them through the post, so one more mysterious disappearance may not attract much attention. Nevertheless, on the case is DI Holdall (Ray Winstone), who soon develops his own suspicions about the hapless hair-wrangler…

The trained monkeys of the national media, ever keen to keep people from actually having to have original thoughts, have already discerned an influence upon The Legend of Barney Thomson that has prompted them to dub it ‘Tartantino’. It is true this is a film with some grisly moments, a spot of unrestrained gunplay, and an F-bomb count soaring towards three figures, but it seemed to me to be rather more in the (collapsed) vein of The League of Gentlemen than anything trans-Atlantic in origin.

This is ultimately a jet-black comedy film, and a rather absurd one, too: but it does get its laughs, mainly because of the deadpan responses of a strong cast to some of the more outrageous moments of horror. ‘You’ve labelled him!’ cries our man, aghast, on opening his mum’s freezer to discover she has chopped up and plastic-wrapped his first unintended victim. ‘I label everything!’ responds Mrs Thomson.

I rather suspect it’s Emma Thompson’s performance as Barney’s mum that this film will be remembered for – she is playing a 70-something chain-smoking foul-mouthed ex-prostitute bingo addict (‘not a role with which she is usually associated’, according to the ever-helpful Wikipedia). Does she manage find the truth and reality in this character? Well, probably not, in all honesty, but it is a very memorable comic grotesque and it sets the tone for the rest of the film.

Thompson virtually walks off with the entire film, but she is given some resistance by (as I said) a good cast, many of whom have history with Carlyle. The star himself is very much playing the straight man, which allows other performers to push the boat out a bit. Winstone may approach the realm of geezerish self-parody but is still very funny, while Tom Courtenay tries very hard to steal all his scenes as the local chief of police (‘I refuse to eat off a plate that’s served up a human arse,’ he declares at one point).

The whole film is an odd mixture of gory slapstick farce and finely-observed scenes of atmospheric Scottish life – at one point a poster for Kasabian appears on someone’s wall, but apart from this the film could be set in the 1960s and 70s, filled as it is with faded bingo halls, sepia-tinted pubs, old-fashioned barber shops and crumbling tower blocks. The soundtrack likewise seems to hearken back to an earlier age – there are signs of an odd sort of nostalgia, amidst all the severed body parts.

This element of the film is rather languid and naturalistic and probably shows off Carlyle’s direction at its best. He seems rather less comfortable dealing with the requirements of the main storyline, although it could just be that the script isn’t quite tight enough to really sing. Certainly there are signs of it running out of ideas in the third act. To be fair, the story starts off as fairly absurd, but the climax is well and truly ridiculous, totally impossible to take seriously as the conclusion to an even partly-serious film.

Still, I enjoyed it, I think: I do remember laughing a lot and the chance to see a lot of fine actors putting pedal to the metal and really going for it in their performances is not one that comes along every day. On the strength of The Legend of Barney Thomson, Carlyle should come back from TV Land more often, as an actor and a director, although something slightly less frenetic and bizarre might suit him better in the latter department.

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Haven’t watched any Olympics so far, don’t feel this has blighted my life, didn’t watch the opening ceremony either – if you really must know, I came across a copy of Gamera the Invincible on the internet and found the prospect of watching that far more appealing. Nevertheless, from all I hear I Love Wonder was a great success. Spiffing; hopefully now Danny Boyle can get back to making horror movies as only he can.

I am of course particularly anticipating Boyle getting to work on 28 Months Later, and I suppose this is a little surprising as I seem to recall being a bit lukewarm about 28 Days Later when it first appeared in 2002. I didn’t think it was a bad film, I just wasn’t as impressed as many other people clearly were. Nevertheless, despite my usual policy of not buying films on DVD unless I’ve already seen them and know they’ll reward many viewings, I bought the box set of it and its sequel, which I missed at the cinema, the first chance I got.

For 28 Weeks Later Boyle stepped back from the director’s position and let Juan Carlos Fresnadillo have a go, although I’ve been told he handled the opening sequence personally. This is not surprising as it’s one of the most visceral and disturbing parts of the film. Here we meet Don (Robert Carlyle), an average family man who’s taken refuge from the outbreak of the Rage virus in a country farmhouse. (This section is set during the same timeframe as the first movie.) However, he and the people he is with are discovered by a pack of infected and he is forced to flee, the only survivor – his desperation to escape making him commit a genuinely shocking act.

Months later, as suggested by the end of the first film, the infected have died of starvation leaving mainland Britain ruined and empty. Refugees who escaped the quarantine are being repatriated by a US Army task force, based at an enclave in central London. Two of the latest arrivals are Don’s kids Andy and Tamsin (Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots – yeah, like those are their real names!) – despite the fact that the presence of children does not sit well with chief medical officer Scarlett (the lovely Rose Byrne).

Scarlett’s concerns prove well-founded when the kids slip out of the compound and discover someone who has survived the outbreak of the Rage. The problem is that they have done so due to a genetic anomaly, which makes them an asymptomatic carrier of the virus: they carry inside them the seeds of a second outbreak, and one which could potentially be even more dangerous than the original…

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking if you’ve seen this film: the recap above presents the facts of the story rather idiosyncratically, but this is only because I want to preserve some of the shocks and surprises built into the plot. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure the focus on Don and his family completely works as the film progresses – given what we saw of the virus and the infected in the first film, the way that some characters behave in the later stages of this one is a little bit startling. (The issue of why the infected don’t simply turn on each other becomes an even more clouded one.)

I suppose one could be accused of taking a very gory zombie movie a bit too seriously by even worrying about this sort of thing, but both these movies are smarter than you’d expect and thus deserve serious consideration. It seems to me that both these films are, on some level, about fear of the mob and the innate human capacity for savagery, but 28 Weeks Later adds a new layer to this by being much more openly political. The repatriatees live in a ‘Green Zone’, while the US Army have, possibly prematurely, declared a formerly hazardous area safe.

It’s very clear that the US Army’s occupation of London is intended, on some level, as a satire on the occupation of Iraq, which adds a new subtext to latter scenes, in which their general (Idris Elba) orders his troops to fire upon civilians to stop the Rage spreading. It’s an interesting idea, and allows for some stunning images – the Isle of Dogs being firebombed, helicopter gunships attacking civilian vehicles in central London – as well as (of course) allowing some American stars to appear in the cast (Jeremy Renner and Harold Perrineau are the most prominent). But I still don’t think this subtext of the film completely makes sense, not least because – on one level – the general is clearly justified in taking whatever measures are necessary to stop the virus spreading.

Nevertheless, this angle, and the fact that as a result this is much more of an action-chase movie than the first one, definitely give it its own identity. I think part of the reason for my subdued response to the Danny Boyle film was that it did seem to me to be an obvious mash-up of two sources I already knew very well (Night of the Living Dead and The Day of the Triffids). I’m not saying 28 Weeks Later is a better film, but I think I’ve watched it more often, quite simply because it is more original.

That said, I did respond rather negatively to it the first time I saw it. Quite apart from the ungallant treatment meted out to the lovely Rose Byrne, I was repelled by the overwhelming, nightmarish bleakness of the film’s atmosphere and story, and especially its ending (as is common, the original doesn’t really leave obvious material for a sequel – this one goes out of its way to allow the story to continue, but of course the rights then got tied up, leaving the third installment in limbo). But now it seems to me that this is the horror of the film, as much as in the splatter and gore – unsympathetic though he is, the general’s ruthless approach to the crisis is ultimately proven to be the right one. It’s the human sympathy and affection shown by many of the main characters which is misplaced and ultimately results in catastrophe (I suppose you could also argue it’s all Don’s fault, but spoilers await). Compassion and empathy, in this film, are what wind up getting you killed, and that’s not a comforting message.

As I said, the ending is left wide open for further episodes (although I’m not sure what they can do with the titles after 28 Months Later – entering the realm of years and decades stretches credibility somewhat), the main challenge being simply to match the level of ingenuity and originality set by this first follow-up. I hope they manage it; this is a superior sequel and a memorable horror movie in its own right.

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From the Hootoo archive.  Originally published December 13th 2001:

Back in the mid-70s there was a not-very-good John Wayne movie called Brannigan, wherein the Duke played a clearly geriatric cop who comes to London and duffs up all the local villains. The pitch was clearly ‘John Wayne in London’ and the culture clash between him and the local police was one of the main elements of the film. Well, plus ca change and all that, because much the same is true of the new Liverpool-set comedy thriller The 51st State, starring an inexplicably-kilted Samuel L Jackson. Times have moved on, of course, which means we now cheer drug dealers rather than cops – the morality of which rather eludes me – but it’s pretty much the same story.

51st State has hit our screens wreathed in the worst critical notices for a very long time. Like the recent Kiss of the Dragon, it’s something of a fusion movie – director Ronny Yu is Hong Kong Chinese, the star is American, the supporting cast largely British. It’s the story of LA-based ‘master chemist’ Elmo McElroy (Jackson, trading heavily on his Pulp Fiction persona) who’s invented a revolutionary new designer drug. Elmo blows up his nasty employer, Lizard (Meat Loaf, who appears to have some sort of unexplained skin condition), and heads for Liverpool to sell the formula to local villain Durrant (Ricky Tomlinson). His guide to the city is American-hating, soccer-loving lowlife Felix (Robert Carlyle). Little does Elmo suspect that Lizard survived the explosion and has despatched expat hitgirl Dakota Dawn (Emily Mortimer) to retrieve him…

Jackson is the central figure in this movie. Without his financial clout it probably wouldn’t have been made at all (probably because of this he gets named as Executive Producer), and without his superfly charisma it would be almost entirely unwatchable. He cruises through the movie like a barracuda in a fishbowl and the film relies heavily on his presence (‘Look,’ it seems to be saying, ‘it’s Samuel L Jackson next to Denzil from Only Fools and Horses! And now look, it’s Samuel L Jackson sitting in a Mini Cooper! Isn’t that the wackiest and most entertaining thing you’ve ever seen?’ And so on).

He certainly puts everyone else in the shade. Robert Carlyle is off-form, possibly due to the very ropey material he’s saddled with much of the time, and looks about thirteen next to his hulking co-star. Emily Mortimer is actually rather good in a one-dimensional part. The rest of the cast, most of whom you’ll know best from TV if at all, are strictly comic relief and not very comical comic relief at that. Tomlinson’s undoubted talents are criminally wasted, Sean Pertwee – veteran of many a dodgy Britflick – pops up gratuitously, doing a frenetic Gary Oldman impersonation, and the only person who regularly gets laughs is Rhys Ifans as a yoga-obsessed drugs baron.

For all this though, the film does have the odd moment where it realises its potential. Most of this is down to Ronny Yu’s flashy but stylish direction. He stages some impressive action sequences and generally brings the film to life, even though he does go a bit over the top here and there. And I could well have done without yet another British movie where the lead characters are introduced via little captions explaining who they are – a trick done to death since Trainspotting.

So, good cast, good director, what went wrong? Well, it’s the script, I’m afraid, which has little to commend it. The plot hinges on a couple of huge coincidences and too many jokes either fall flat or turn out to be unpleasant rather than funny. One gag, about idiot sidekicks accidentally violently murdering people, is repeated twice to little effect. And – this isn’t necessarily a criticism – this is probably the most foul-mouthed film I’ve ever seen, with entire scenes seeming to consist of characters shouting ****, ****, ****, and ******** at each other1. This is not as funny as the producers think it is. Weakest of all is the stagey, implausible, and uncinematic climax.

If I could make one wish to help the British movie industry it’d be to stop them from trying to hedge their bets and mix genres. This is a comedy thriller, allegedly, but as far as I can tell this is just a matter of labelling so they’ve got an excuse in case the comedy or the thrills aren’t there. Which they’re mostly not. I wish they’d had the guts to go for either a proper, hard-edged thriller or an all-out caper-style comedy rather than this confused film, where the two styles co-mingle. The result is a sloppy film set in an unrecognisable fantasyland, where there’s no real sense of threat or menace and decent jokes stand out like oases in the desert. The 51st State isn’t as bad as you’ve probably heard it is – Jackson, Mortimer and Yu salvage what they can – but it’s not far off.

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My opinion is usually a fairly intractable thing, but when it comes to the issue of Brosnan-era Bond films it has, in the past, been almost embarrassingly inconstant – certainly as far as the vexed ‘which is best?’ question goes.

Even while emerging from Tomorrow Never Dies I was declaring to anyone who’d listen that it was far superior to Goldeneye. Then, in accordance with my ‘every Bond’s third film is his best one’ thesis (since recanted, by the way), I spent some time promoting The World Is Not Enough as the Irish Bond’s finest two and a bit hours. And, despite (or possibly due to) its general ridiculousness, Die Another Day also got its moment in the heart of my affections. Ironically enough, these days I’ve mostly reverted to the view that Goldeneye is the best one. Is there a moral for us here? I think there isn’t.

I say ‘mostly reverted’, because every time I watch The World Is Not Enough I catch myself wondering if this isn’t the best Bond of its period, and one of the best of the lot. Directed by Michael Apted, it’s in many ways the antithesis of its immediate predecessor: where Tomorrow Never Dies had a straightforward, even mechanical storyline, which moved urgently from one slick and lavish action sequence to the next, TWINE has a convoluted and slightly baffling story which – I think – makes sense if you can be bothered to unravel all the details, but the action beats are – well, they’re not actually bad, they just feel a little incongruous and perfunctory given the tone of the rest of the movie. (Exempt from this criticism is the splendid opening speedboat chase up the Thames, which – regrettably – was as close as the Dome ever came to coolness.)

In many ways this is a film which feels ahead of its time, in that the plot revolves around a bitter struggle for the control of oil supplies, touches on the spread of terrorism in central Asia and the near East, and concludes with an attempt at nuclear suicide bombing. On paper it looks very much like standard Bond stuff, albeit not adhering to any of the classic plots, as terminal headcase Renard (Robert Carlyle at the height of his fame) targets a family of British-based oil tycoons, specifically beautiful heiress Elektra King (Sophie Marceau). With the head of MI6 feeling partly responsible for the situation, Bond is sent to protect the woman. But not everyone or everything is what they appear to be…

Bond movies have a somewhat-deserved reputation for thin characterisation and formulaic stereotyping, but it’s in this department in particular that TWINE is something special. Anyone who’s seen a few of these films knows the stock characters: the Girl, the Master Villain, the Local Ally, the Heavy, the Bad Girl (the last two are occasionally omitted or conflated). Things are much less clear-cut in this film. It’s more than edges simply being blurred – characters initially appear to be one thing then unexpectedly turn out to be something quite different. This would be fairly unexceptional in a standard thriller but for a Bond film it’s noteworthy (possibly a symptom of the perceived problems which the Casino Royale reboot was intended to alleviate). And there’s some very odd, twisted stuff going on here, too – Renard has performance anxiety and worries about Bond being better in bed than him, for instance. (You never got that kind of thing from Christopher Lee or Donald Pleasence.)

However, if there’s a weak element to TWINE it’s in the (thrusting) person of supporting girl Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards. Yes, this is a brilliant nuclear scientist, an expert in many fields and a speaker of multiple languages, so who have they cast? Denise Richards. The word ‘vapid’ immediately springs to mind, along with ‘unconvincing’, ’embarrassment’ and ‘no wonder she couldn’t sustain a top-echelon career for more than a couple of years’.

Apart from Denise Richards, this is a great film, which manages to walk the razor’s edge between Bond-dom daftness and grown-up movie credibility with great aplomb. There are some good gags and nice character moments, the villains’ scheme is credible yet entirely deserving of Bond’s time, and Robbie Coltrane and John Cleese get to come on and have some fun. Desmond Llewellyn’s swan-song as Q is also, in retrospect, a lovely, poignant moment. Quite why Eon decided to go, relatively speaking, off the deep end with the very next film I’m not really sure: but if they’re still looking for a template which merges the hallmarks of the franchise at its best with adult credibility and depth, they could do much worse than take another look at The World Is Not Enough.

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