Sunday, March 15, 2015

Don't Make a Scene: Skyfall

The Set-Up: "Tell Me a Story." This month, we'll be continuing the short series showcasing scenes that feature a story in the midst of the narrative. That story may couch the plot in a new light; it may illuminate themes or present a back-history. It may be just a distraction. It may be a side-story that resonates throughout the film and casts its teller (or its subject) into the affections or disaffections of the audience, making him immortal no matter how short their amount of screen-time. 

The villains in the James Bond movies sure do like to talk. After 23 films (and six James Bond's), you'd think they'd learn that if they spent less time talking and more time shooting, Agent 007 would have been dead long ago. But, say one thing for them: those egomaniacs certainly are congenial hosts. It's always "Welcome, Mr. Bond! Like my volcano-missile pad? Pour you a drink, 007, while I go on and on about myself?"

The movies are all about Bond (as Kim Basinger groused after Never Say Never Again), but the villains are the spice to the things. They all have great entrances (and spectacular exits), but few have been given a presentation the way Javier Bardem has in Skyfall. It's a long single take starting with his villain Silva dropping in from a slowly anticipating elevator across a long room before the trussed-up British agent. Then, Silva crosses the distance talking, uninterrupted, slowly pacing his steps to come to the point about the relationship between the two men, while director Sam Mendes (and his brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins) slowly move the camera in and down, so that Bond disappears from the shot and we are left alone and below, looking up at Silva, who at this point clearly has the advantage of the scene. Neat, simple and elegant, and subtly giving no distraction from the actor or his performance, while increasing his menace and importance simultaneously.

Great little speech, too, and Bardem makes the most of it, taking advantage of distance (gestures when he's far off; containment in close-up) to maximize effect, making his villain very theatrical and also self-aware, a narcissist enjoying his own performance.

The Set-Up: Someone is targeting the British Secret Service: a list of agents embedded in terrorist organizations has been stolen; MI6's computer system hacked; its headquarters on the Thames damaged in an explosion; its head, M (Judi Dench), targeted by...someone. And 007 (Daniel Craig) is out of action, shot, presumed dead, on a mission to get back that agent list. But the bombing of MI6 brings him back out of his self-imposed retirement and he follows the clues (and a woman, naturally) to a remote island to meet the man responsible (Javier Bardem) who has been playing them all from the shadows, and only now comes into the light.

[as Bond is tied to a chair, an elevator lowers in front of him... 
...and Silva appears and walks toward him] 
Raoul Silva: Hello, James. 
Silva: Welcome. 
Silva: Do you like the island? 
Silva: My grandmother had an island. Nothing to boast of. You could walk around it in an hour, but still it was, it was a paradise for us. 
Silva: One summer, we went for a visit and discovered the place had been infested with rats. They'd come on a fishing boat and gorged themselves on coconut. So how do you get rats off an island? Hmm? 
Silva: My grandmother showed me. We buried an oil drum and hinged the lid. Then we wired coconut to the lid as bait and the rats would come for the coconut and... 
Silva: poing-poing-poing-poing-poing...they would fall into the drum. 
Silva: And after a month, you have trapped all the rats, but what do you do then? Throw the drum into the ocean? Burn it? No. 
Silva: You just leave it... 
Silva: ...and they begin to get hungry. And one by one... [mimics rat munching sound] they start eating each other until there are only two left. 
Silva: The two survivors. 
Silva: And then what? Do you kill them? No. You take them and release them into the trees...
Silva: ...but now they don't eat coconut anymore. Now, they only eat rat. You have changed their nature. 
Silva: The two survivors. 
Silva: This is what she made us.


Words by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and John Logan

Pictures by Roger Deakins and Sam Mendes

Skyfall is available on DVD from Sony Home Video.

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