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Byron Loker

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Licensed to thrill: a rumination on the new James Bond film

I wanted to rate Daniel Craig’s performance as cold and detached, until I saw it for what it is: brilliant and efficient.

I wanted to rate Daniel Craig’s performance as cold and detached, until I saw it for what it is: brilliant and efficient.

I think Spectre it is a perfect film. (You don’t have to read on, this is the age of Twitter, after all). All I can say is I feel very proud of the storytelling industry at the moment. Ok, that’s not all I’ll say then:

Perfection is relative, of course, but what do you give (sell) an audience today—a generational one by now (the first Bond book was published in 1953)—that has been buying your ‘product’ (watching your movie; reading your book; consuming your ‘franchise’) and has ‘seen ‘em all’, done ‘em all, is cynical as hell, got all the T shirts? People like me. Read all the reviews, gone in to the movie thinking, ok let’s see you show me, Mr Sam Mendes, how next-level you can be right now in 2015 with US$240 000 000 (a blank cheque basically) and a movie camera (or two. And a few other people to help you). Very next level.

I admire how the ‘franchise’ owners might have have said, ok, there’s our audience, there are the people we want to make something very nice for and hopefully they’ll buy it, and it’s today and here’s 240 million dollars and one of the most recognizable characters in contemporary fiction, get me the best people you can get me in this biz with this money and spend it well—make a nice story and try to make some money back for me, ok, if you don’t mind. And the film-makers have gone and done just that.

I smirked all the way through the usual opening chases and tricks and tracking shots, thinking, seen this before, it’s almost a self parody, what the hell, what’s so great about this? Until I noticed that it IS a self-parody in the beginning and I thought that that is perfect for the day and age and perfect for the story and was totally hooked and blown away: it’s just this guy, James Bond, who dresses very nicely and says things like, ‘Very good, sir’ and is just doing his job (which happens to involve killing people) by using every drop of what’s immediately available to him—his training, his wits, his resources, his friends and whatever he has only immediately to hand—to stay alive, second by second; just like all of us do, if you really think about it. He has to kill, or be killed. And he has a licence to do it. What would you do with that awesome responsibility?

The film’s art works so well as to make you ask yourself that question every few seconds. Every action and decision this James Bond guy makes has a logical, or illogical, expected, or unexpected, reaction, and then he takes another action, and so on. It’s all about—as his leading lady puts it over an abortive candle-lit dinner on a train across a desert, seconds before an assassin strikes—’the choices we make, James’.

Absolutely nothing about the film feels gratuitous, in fact it makes every other Bond film I’ve seen feel even more so now to me (the Timothy Dalton ones were the pits). Every very, very expensive shot, word of dialogue, piece of technology and plot turn, looks and sounds just right to me. Every dollar of the 240 million spent, looks well spent. (It even looks to me like Mr Mendes turned the X number Heineken gave him into a plot turn that is just beautiful).

I wanted to rate Daniel Craig’s performance as cold and detached, until I saw it for what it is: brilliant and efficient, his performance, that is, of a character—a man—who IS cold and detached, yes (kind of how you want your secret service assassins to be. Miss Moneypenny, on seeing his unfurnished flat for the first time: ‘You just move in?’ His reply: ‘No’) but is moreover just absolutely brilliant and efficient at what he does—he is the best in the world at what he does—and it makes me want to be like that (to be James Bond, which is who I wanted to be since I watched my first Bond film, probably age six or seven, which boy of my specific ‘cultural’ conditioning didn’t/doesn’t?) not to ‘get THE girl’ and drive THE car and (spoiler alert) wear THE watch (certain people have to buy those things; certain people just get given them), but to have his attitude towards whatever it is that I happen to do for a living, a second to second living.

I suppose the cinematic art works somehow, magically, at best, to impart that potential from that fictional world to my real world, (luckily my living doesn’t have to do with killing some people I meet in order to make the world a safer place for other people, although I very often wish it did).

The film-makers in turn come off looking to me, likewise, brilliant and efficient at what they do and have done with their resources (you can get a bloody hell nation’s worth of resources for $240 million). It gets you, for example, one of only three pilots in the world licensed to do aerobatics in a helicopter ( The filmmakers earn my admiration, and so it turns back to the character and the story and so on in a perfect circle.

I thought this would be a quick, pithy, wise paragraph full of rhetorical questions and clever analogies conjoining the ‘meaning of life ‘ as embodied in the latest James Bond movie but now it just looks like a pretentious ramble. Anyway, bloody loved this movie. Has its flaws (‘they’ say it is impossible to hand-draw a perfect circle) which is wonderful, because, like many things, it is also what makes it beautiful, and if perfection is relative, I have another another perfect James Bond movie to look forward to, hopefully. I can’t wait. And I hope all the other people that get the privilege of spending two hunnerd and forty million Yew Ess dollars of someone else’s money on a work of fiction do it as beautifully as this.

Michael Wilson, producer: ‘This is old-style film-making, the kind people don’t do now, as they rely on CGI. We had streets closed off leading to the square in Mexico City. We put a collapsed building in the middle of a street; we landed helicopters. The 1,500 extras weren’t “show up in your own clothes” extras, they were all dressed for the Day Of The Dead. It meant make-up, hair and wardrobe each morning at 4am in a convention centre miles away then being bussed in. It was extraordinary. Then in Morocco we set off the biggest-ever explosion on film. We had four major foreign locations with a First and Second Unit (two complete film crews, one shooting with principal actors, the other focusing on stunt scenes and pick-ups). It was on an epic scale.’
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