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Brian Helgeland: Why is Legend Called Legend?

kraytwinsIt’s been four years since we had the pleasure of interviewing the Academy Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker Brian Helgeland for our site (part I, part II). We’re so pleased to welcome him back as we look forward to the release of his new film, Legend. But who—or what—is Legend? Helgeland gives us the story.

The cigarette punch. Shake a smoke out of a pack and offer it to your unwitting victim. When he leans in to accept it—WHAM!—you break his jaw with a single punch; the fact that his mouth is open makes it that much more breakable. Reggie Kray broke the jaws of five men this way. No wait, twenty-five men. No, hold on, it was one hundred and twenty-five men. His paranoid schizophrenic brother Ron, meanwhile, was nailing people to the floor. Those are the types of stories you come across when you begin to investigate London’s most notorious gangsters—the Kray Twins.

kraytwinsmovieOn my mission to make a film about them, one of the first research images I saw was a photo of Reggie Kray’s hearse and a flower arrangement it held: white carnations spelled out the word Legend. With everything I had heard and read, the name seemed to fit and so I adopted it as my title. History is written by the winners, and Reginald Kray’s name will never be counted in that column. His story is told by enemies who hated him, whose self-serving interests necessitate that they diminish and degrade him. His story is told by authorities of law and class who wish to make him an example and hold him up as a lesson. Last, but not least, it is told by those who want to place him firmly in the mythic role of the outlaw. He was certainly some of the things they  say he was, but none of it is close to the whole truth—and no one, as far as I know, tells his story out of love.

Reggie Kray was close to two people during the free part of his life: his brother Ron and his wife Frances. My desire was to humanize him and thereby do right by all of them. How can you humanize a villain, some may protest? Well, demonizing him doesn’t ask or answer very much; it’s too damn easy to be honest and also not very interesting. For me it all begs the question: how do we ever really know what’s true about someone? What we hear is opinion, what we see is point of view, and none of it is necessarily the truth, especially where the Krays are concerned.

reggieandfrancesReggie is a myth now, doomed to a tabloid history and shoddy biography. I am guilty as well. Early on in my research I heard the story that on the morning of the day Frances Kray killed herself, Reggie had bought two tickets for them to go away together on holiday to Ibiza. That story appealed to the romantic in me, but it got even better. In his thirty-three years in prison, the one physical constant in Reggie’s existence was that he kept those unused tickets with him.

A tale of a violent cigarette-wielding gangster? I’m not that interested. But a man torn between his duty and his desire? A man who carries with him a talisman of his lost love and his sins against her for three decades behind bars?
Now we’re cooking with fire. The story of Reggie and Frances? That’s a Legend to me.

Legend opens November 20, 2015. Visit www.legend-the-movie.com for more information.

The Film Adaptation of Joe Lansdale’s Cold In July Takes Sundance By Storm!

Cold in July film

Calling it “dank and sweaty and fabulous,” Twitch reviews Cold In July, directed by Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) and starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson. The way the film is described can also be applied to Joe Lansdale’s writing: “dark, grim, all-too-real, refusing to stay within a predictable path.” Please join us in congratulating Joe as Cold In July is positioned to be one of the most buzzed-about films at the Sundance Film Festival.

And when can plebes like us watch the movie? Cold In July was just snapped up by IFC Films for nationwide distribution, and they’re expecting to release the film theatrically and on Video On Demand this summer. Read the full press release on Deadline.

Nicholas Mennuti’s 11 Best Film Scores of 2013

Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti with David GuggenheimNicholas Mennuti, one of the authors of Weaponized, is a true cineaste. In this post, written at the end of 2013, he shares with us his favorite film scores of the year. You can stream these scores as a playlist via the Spotify widget below.

There’s still a few scores I’ve been waiting to get my hands on: Roque Banos’s Oldboy, Arcade Fire’s Her, Danny Elfman’s Unknown Known, and Explosions in the Sky and Steve Jablonsky’s work on Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, so I hate to make this list without hearing them—because judging from the composers’ prior work, I’m sure one of them would have made it—however, December is winding down and being cursed with a sense of impending time comparable only to a Italian railroad official, I wanted to get my thoughts down on film scoring in 2013.

I’ve been told by those “in the know” that lists of ten are so common they tend to get passed over by search engines, so here are the 11 best film scores of 2013.

CLIFF MARTINEZ – ONLY GOD FORGIVES

It’s hard to justify one’s love for Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive follow-up, Only God Forgives, without dropping caveats up front—yes, it sure is excessive and slow; luckily, you don’t have to do the same for Cliff Martinez’s score.

Refn and Martinez both hit it big with Drive, which relied as much on songs from Johnny Jewel’s “Italians Do It Better” label—as it did Martinez’s score—to back a meticulously executed, but seriously derivative film that at times felt like a cryogenically frozen fetish object.

Only God Forgives is Martinez’s solo show and this film—which has been compared to a vomitorium—is the furthest thing from derivative, excepting a few discreet borrowings from The Grifters. Refn has seemingly invented his own genre this time around; if not invented, then thrown so many together, from Leone and Jodorowsky to Hitchcock, that Martinez gets the opportunity to put his unique stamp on five different film scoring standards.

With tracks like “Sister Part 1” Martinez evokes his traditional eerily moving ambient sound that he’s patented during his years with Steven Soderbegh. In tracks like “Chang and Sword,” he creates a soundscape with twanging guitars and long plucks that sounds like electro-Morricone, or a Spaghetti Western unfolding on the banks of the River Styx. With “Mai Quits Masturbating”, we’re almost in Bernard Herrmann territory, with anxious, mournful strings providing a sonic analogue to distorted sexuality. With “Wanna Fight” we enter something akin to John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York” with an Asian flair. However, the most stunning to my ears was Martinez’s descent into what can only be called Thai Hell, which consists of Mike Oldfield pianos, gongs, chimes, shrieking strings, and an avant-garde rumble—almost Pendericki—that truly sounds like sulfur spitting or tectonic plates shifting.

Whether or not you think Refn’s film will endure—I tend to think it will—I have no doubt that Martinez’s score will.

THOMAS NEWMAN – SIDE EFFECTS

The penultimate film in Steven Soderbergh’s mad pre-retirement dash (including Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike, and Behind the Candelabra) was this unjustly overlooked thriller that takes place in the nebulous world of healthcare kept afloat on big Pharma money. It’s the type of movie that rarely escapes from Hollywood these days: mid-budget, actor-driven, provocative without being preachy, and R-rated for all the right reasons. And it’s the type of film Soderbergh tends to do best: rigorous formal control (bordering on icy) with a burning center.

Soderbergh has a stable of composers and tends to dole out scoring duties depending on the genre, illustrated in the brief breakdown below:

Cliff Martinez: Has been with Soderbergh from the beginning (1989’s Sex Lies and Videotape) and tends to be his stylistic soul mate. They both employ a hypnotic ambient arsenal of texture, misdirection, and tonal ambiguity. In fact, I’m shocked Martinez didn’t get the Side Effects job, but I’m going to bet it had to something to do with the fact that he already had three movies lined up to score this year.

David Holmes: Generally gets the job within the crime/thriller genre when Soderbergh wants a funkier, lighter, 70’s Schifrin-esque vibe to complement his Pop-Art visuals.

Alberto Iglesias, Marvin Hamlisch: The biopic composers. Both superlative talents brought in for Che, The Informant, and Behind the Candelabra respectively, and finally,

Thomas Newman: Tends to get Soderbergh’s—for lack of a better word—“prestige” projects: Erin Brockovich, The Good German, and Side Effects. Newman—more than any composer today, I think (outside maybe James Newton Howard), is a master of giving the director what they need musically to tie a film together. In fact, Newman’s music is so good that in some cases he can literally create the illusion of continuity and sense (see The Adjustment Bureau for example) where none exists.

Side Effects didn’t need his sonic glue to hold it together—Soderbergh’s craft has never been better—but let me allow the late Roger Ebert to say exactly what Newman’s spell-binding and spine-tingling music brings to the project, because I can’t put it any better:

The music tells us what kind of movie Side Effects is going to be. It coils beneath what seems like a realistic plot and whispers that something haunted and possessed is going on. Imagine music for a sorcery-related plot and then dial it down to ominous forebodings. Without Thomas Newman’s score, Side Effects would be a lesser film, even another film.

Continue reading “Nicholas Mennuti’s 11 Best Film Scores of 2013”

In Conversation with Nicholas Mennuti and Alan Glynn

Weaponized by Nicholas Mennuti and David GuggenheimThe wide-ranging conversation below between Nicholas Mennuti, one of the authors of Weaponized, and Alan Glynn, whose novel The Dark Fields was adapted for the film Limitless, covers such topics as globalization, espionage fiction, Cambodia, literary influences, and film influences—a veritable “arterial spray” of allusions (their words, not ours!). You’ll definitely want to make time to dive into this fascinating exchange.

Alan Glynn: Nick, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Weaponized and was struck by several things in it. One is the fact that it is packed—action-packed and packed with ideas, which is pretty unusual, I think, and unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory. The highest compliment I can pay it is to say that the book feels like North by Northwest meets Apocalypse Now. Anyone who reads the book will know immediately what I mean: the Cambodian setting, the existential end-of-American-empire angst, the assuming and trading of identities, the espionage, the cat-and-mousing around, the playfulness, the darkness, the betrayals, the reversals, the fun and the horror (x2). Perhaps those movie references betray my age, because the thing is Weaponized is also bang up-to-date in its concerns. In a way, it’s like a primer on globalization. You leave nothing out: resource wars, pipelines, corporations, big data-driven surveillance, private security firms, the outsourcing land grab, the Chinese, the Russians, and you also debate, or pose questions about, the individual’s place and responsibility in all of this. But despite packing these themes into the novel, you don’t ram them down the reader’s throat—it’s not a didactic or polemical book. Instead, you deflect and entertain with car chases and explosions, with tense checkpoint confrontations and with the occasional spurting artery. I suppose my first question is, how important was this balance for you, and how conscious were you during the writing process of trying to strike it?

Nicholas Mennuti: First off, I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book. Means a ton coming from you. I’ve been “borrowing/inspired” by you for a while. That’s one of those jokes-not jokes.

Your question is kind of a bouillabaisse of interesting things to talk about, so if I get a bit circular I hope that’s okay.

I’m kind of an espionage thriller binger and had come to the conclusion that the model hadn’t really changed in years. You either had the sort of fussy-frilly Le Carré model (that of course started with Greene and Buchan) that Olen Steinhauer, Jeremy Duns, David Ignatius, and Charles Cumming have dragged into the 21st century. Or you get the military-jingoistic version of it with Brad Thor, Andy McNab, Lee Child. And I just felt neither of these styles felt like the right way to deal with the chaos of the 21st century.

The world had changed, but espionage fiction still felt very 1989. All of those authors (many of whom I do like) still seemed locked into talking about a world that has kind of ceased to exist. A unipolar world that one man can save from destruction. So I really wanted to talk about topics/places that I felt were being underserved/underutilized by contemporary espionage fiction. Which of course leads you into privatized spying and the third-world. Now, that’s all analytical, and I probably became more aware of that as I went through writing/editing the book. But this desire to break the paradigm was there all along.

Jack Nicholson in The PassengerBut where Weaponized really started was with my enduring obsession with Antonioni’s The Passenger. Do you know that one? It’s with Jack Nicholson. It’s all about identity switching and existential ennui in the guise of a thriller. Only problem is that it’s Antonioni—who had no interest in making a thriller. So I started thinking: what if you made an actual thriller out of this art-movie?

North by Northwest and Apocalypse Now have been obsessions of mine since I was a teenager, so they’re just part of my creative DNA at this point. I’m sure they’re going to be present in whatever I write. If I were writing a romantic comedy, I’m sure there’d be at least one spy and one third-world setting.

Apocalypse Now in particular fascinated me. It reminded me of Graham Greene’s fiction in that the topography of the novel seemed like the perfect literal manifestation of the lead character’s interior. With Apocalypse, I’ve never been sure whether Vietnam looked that crazy, or if it just looked that crazy to Martin Sheen. And that subjectivity runs through Weaponized. I wanted people to feel Cambodia through Kyle. Just like how you feel Vietnam through Willard. That’s also something you got a lot of mileage out of in Dark Fields (Limitless). Just how subjective/expressionistic can I get with this narrator without pulling this out of genre territory. Would you agree?

And what both North by Northwest and Apocalypse Now have in common is that they’re genre movies of the highest order that managed to pack a ton of subtext into the genre without weighing it down.

I mean I could write a page just on how fascinating it is in North by Northwest that Cary Grant’s middle initial “O” literally stands for NOTHING. It’s zero as a place-holder. Is that why he could be mistaken for Kaplan on a metaphysical level in the first place—there’s no one there to start with. It’s no mistake I think that Hitchcock had him working in advertising.

In terms of what I’ll refer to “ideas balanced with mayhem,” I was definitely conscious of it. I wasn’t interested in writing a deconstructivist thriller, where I hollow out all the genre gambits, and turn it into a formal-polemicist kind of thing. The Europeans do that really well, but I don’t.

I set a rule for myself early on that any ideas, either political or philosophical, have to come out of a character, or be on the action line. For example, if I want to talk about French colonialism, it’s going to be during a chase scene at Robinson’s hotel. Or if I want to talk about Russian oligarchy, it’s going to be in a scene where Kyle’s got to pick up a gun.

I have a lot of love for the genre, particularly when it’s really working, so I wanted (and David Guggenheim was so crucial in helping me getting a frame for it) to make sure the book worked as a thriller first, and then go about layering this other stuff in. That said, even before we had the story I knew I wanted Weaponized to feel like the 21st century: fractured, neon, lonely, and set in a series of geographical non-places. I wanted to write a thriller that didn’t feel embalmed. Continue reading “In Conversation with Nicholas Mennuti and Alan Glynn”

Lauren Beukes’s Top 10 Movies About Serial Killers

The Shining Girls by Lauren BeukesLauren Beukes is the author of The Shining Girls, a novel about a time-traveling serial killer…who’s being stalked by his sole survivor. The genre-bending thriller has earned raves from Entertainment Weekly, who calls it “a heart-thumping tale,” and The New York Times, who deems it a “strong contender for the role of this summer’s universal beach read.” Below is Beukes’s Top 10 list of movies about serial killers. How many have you seen?

1. The Silence of the Lambs

2. Se7en

3. Zodiac

Continue reading “Lauren Beukes’s Top 10 Movies About Serial Killers”

Lauren Beukes’s Film and TV Inspirations

The Shining Girls is a mash-up of a thing: part serial killer thriller, part old-fashioned romantic buddy caper, part time-travel twister. The TV shows and movies that had a major influence on me generally, which I think played into the writing of this book, are:

Memento for its twisty out-of-order storytelling

Memento

True Grit for a young bolshy heroine set on justice

Continue reading “Lauren Beukes’s Film and TV Inspirations”

Ar-Go Accept Your Oscar

Take a look at the contenders for the 2012 Oscar race and it’s clear fans of suspense had much to be thankful for in 2012. With ZERO DARK THIRTY, DJANGO UNCHAINED and ARGO all serious contenders for the top honor, and with DJANGO UNCHAINED and ARGO taking home many of the top awards, the accolades have been anything but scarce this year for high-quality thrillers.

I saw all three of the above, enjoyed them all immensely, and so found myself wondering: what precisely made ARGO the best film of the year, in the face of such fierce competition?

It bears pointing out here the absurdity of even trying to pick a single top film, given that every movie ever made attempts a singular endeavor—to tell a fresh story, as efficiently as possible, one that appeals to the film’s unique target viewership. (You could hardly expect the fans of DJANGO UNCHAINED overlap significantly with, say, everyone who went to see Pixar’s BRAVE.) If each film is unique, and uniquely attempts to thrill, delight, edify, and move a different group of theatergoers, what is the Academy even crowning with Best Picture?

You might argue that limiting the scope to the suspense fiction narrows things down enough to make singling out a single film more feasible. And yet. The three films nominated are each standouts in their particular subgenre, and their goals could hardly be considered the same. Each shows a different selection of the range of work suspense films perform. From the pleasure of witnessing the documentation of thrilling real(ish) events in ZERO DARK THIRTY, to being bombarded by tongue-in-cheek violence until your jaw pops open in DJANGO UNCHAINED, to the appreciation of faithfully reconstructed period details and quality performances in ARGO—even calling these films a variation on a unifying theme is a stretch.

So then, what does ARGO manage that ZERO DARK THIRTY and DJANGO UNCHAINED do not? If anything (and this can be considered both a good and bad thing, depending on your preference), ARGO seems the most conventional of the three nominees. Its heroes seem unremittingly good. Though the subject matter is fresh, the telling relies on a few tried-and-tested tricks. If (spoiler alert) an airport escape plot depends on someone picking up when the phone rings, we all know they won’t be there until the very last second—and the bad guys will end up chasing the plane down the tarmac.

And that may be the answer in a nutshell. Despite its plethora of double-dealing and deep cover, there’s very little truly subversive about ARGO—no rich ambiguity to divide politicians and inspire multiple, competing interpretations as ZERO DARK THIRTY has, or outsized version of our uncomfortable past that Tarantino forces his audience to confront in DJANGO UNCHAINED. Don’t get me wrong—ARGO is a great film. I ate it up like popcorn. But it may also be a case study in the way least controversy conquers all.

All that said, though, I will confess to being an avid Tarantino fan who’s still bitter about Pulp Fiction’s many snubs at the 1994 Oscars. Maybe I should just Argo f&*$ myself.

Wes Miller is Mulholland Books’ Associate Editor and Marketing Associate. If Mulholland were a crime novel instead of an imprint that publishes them, Wes would be its PI—the stalwart presence resolving its issues, making sure at the end of the day, justice gets served and good prevails—at least until tomorrow comes. Reach him through the Mulholland Books twitter account (@mulhollandbooks), on Tumblr (mulhollandbooks.tumblr.com) or right here on the Mulholland Books website.

The Dark in Zero Dark Thirty

Spoiler alert: DO NOT read this blog post if you haven’t yet seen Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s new film; this post most likely goes into enough detail that you’ll probably come away feeling a little bit like someone ruined the surprise for you. At least, as much as one can feel that way about a film where you already know how it ends.

Whether you’ve seen the film or not, you’ve probably caught wind of at least some of the controversy surrounding the release of the ZERO DARK THIRTY. Some members of the intelligence community assert the film misrepresents the role torture played in the trail of evidence that led to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden’s whereabouts. Critics have alternately claimed that the film’s portrayal of brutal interrogation methods either works either as a tacit endorsement thereof, or the film’s objective, journalistic approach is morally reprehensible in the face of what some would consider amorality of the events it portrays.

Maybe it’s an effect of my reading habits, or maybe I had Scott Montgomery’s essay on my mind—but I can’t help but feel there’s another interpretation of the film that hasn’t been fully explored in the criticism I’ve read: ZERO DARK THIRTY as noir cinema.

Most noir stories (or at least the genre’s most traditional strain) operate as negative example—a playing out of the it-never-gets-better series of events that lies in wait, should one make the same kind of choices as the story’s protagonist. This strand of noir is intensely, almost puritanically moral, despite the immorality it depicts; any portrayal of violence or criminality within the confines of this strand of storytelling is anything but an endorsement. Its message is simple: bad things happen to people who make bad choices–so choose wisely, or be prepared to face the music.

Montgomery argues that noir begins with a crime and only gets worse from there— certainly, ZERO DARK THIRTY has this angle down pat. An eerie series of voiceovers that alludes to the most infamous crime of the century, 9/11, opens the film, which then transitioning directly to another act of violence much more intimate in scope, yet just as central to the story at hand–the harrowing interrogations that took place in CIA black sites, where we first meet Maya, Jessica Chastain’s then-junior operative.

Maya’s first on-screen moments are performed with a thick, oversized ski mask that obscures both her features and gender—both to engineer a dramatic reveal and also, it would seem, to signify that without an active role in the brutal methods shown, she’s not yet fully accountable for the brutal violence to which the film depicts, more witness than active participant.

This all changes when Maya returns to the locked room, having this time left the mask at the door. Dan, the senior agent leading the interrogation, asks Maya to fill him a bucket of water that will be used to  torture the detainee under question. Maya hesitates, if only for a moment. And while, as with much of Chastain’s understated performance, much has to be inferred, her reluctance in this crucial moment speaks volumes. This is it, you can almost sense Maya thinking. Here is the point of no return.

From then on, Maya is complicit in the acts of violence depicted, at times even signaling to other participants when a prisoner is to be physically assaulted—even if Maya never quite inflicts these acts without the buffer of an enforcer. Even Dan, who seems so totally unflinching in the film’s opening scene, turns aside from this dastardly mission before Maya, who continues to take part in the torture of detainees right up to the minute the President puts an end to these brutal methods that give Maya her first piece of key intel, and many others that follow.

While the facts of Maya’s story necessitate there’s not quite the relentless, downward spiral of classic noir in ZERO DARK THIRTY—no pursuit by the authorities follows a government-sanctioned act of violence such as Maya’s—there is certainly a certain noirness in the overall trajectory of the plot. Director Bigelow and screenwriter Boal go out of their way to make note of every major act of terrorism in the past ten years while Maya continues her hunt, as if to challenge the validity the narrow focus of Maya’s relentless quest—more subtle and yet more effective than the in-tandem occasional insistence of Maya’s superiors that she consider broadening her focus.

The film’s conclusion carries this trajectory through to the bitter end. As we all know, Maya does, of course, get her man. And yet we never see Maya truly celebrate the completion of the task to which she’s devoted a full decade of her life—just more flat affect, a few choice tears, and a sense of loss in the final plateau, of Maya, alone, given anywhere in the world to go and nowhere in particular she seems to want to be. That may not be quite the sort of severe moral reckoning that traditional noir requires—but if so, it’s only another, more nihilistic strain of noir coming into play in the film’s final moments. In an unjust world with few moral absolutes, ZERO DARK THIRTY argues, sometimes the good guys aren’t quite so guilt-free—and sometimes the guilty go free.

Wes Miller is Mulholland Books’ Associate Editor and Marketing Associate. If Mulholland were a crime novel instead of an imprint that publishes them, Wes would be its PI—the stalwart presence resolving its issues, making sure at the end of the day, justice gets served and good prevails—at least until tomorrow comes. Reach him through the Mulholland Books twitter account (@mulhollandbooks), on Tumblr (mulhollandbooks.tumblr.com) or right here on the Mulholland Books website.

Year End Review: A Few Thoughts on Jim Thompson and The Grifters

With 2013 just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to sit back and reflect on another year of great content and great books. Check back twice daily in the last days of 2012 for a selection of our favorite MulhollandBooks.com posts from the past year!

There are those moments in life so powerful and disturbing that they defy definition.  For me, Jim Thompson’s novels provide such moments.  Or maybe it’s more fair to say they knock me into them backwards—ass over applecart.

Apparently, I’m not alone in that.  Read what’s been said about Thompson, and you see that everyone is grasping: “If Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich could have joined together in some ungodly union and produced a literary offspring, Jim Thompson would be it….His work…casts a dazzling light upon the human condition.”

This is the first quote about Thompson’s work that many readers encounter, the Washington Post blurb splashed on the back of the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard editions that came out in the 1990s, after years when it was hard to find Thompson’s novels.  It’s evocative, and for fans of hard-boiled it has a dreamlike feel.  But ultimately it’s not very helpful.

Why?  Well, the problem with any definition that works by comparison is that it can only sketch around a thing: a chalk mark on a sidewalk, it misses the heart of the matter entirely—the heart that is so raw, so terribly visible, it forces you to work through analogy in the first place. “What does Hammett have to do with anything?” you might argue.  “There is none of his carefully-controlled and sleekly-styled disillusion here.  Surely the reviewer should have said Chandler, Cain, and Woolrich.  Or better, Cain, Woolrich and Chandler, in that order.”  In no time, what is Thompson’s is lost.

Yet such an approach is understandable, for to look at the heart of Thompson’s work… Well, it’s a hard place to look.  But in the end, the only way to get at it is to read, and then live with the consequences for a while. Continue reading “Year End Review: A Few Thoughts on Jim Thompson and The Grifters”

Not Your Father’s Bond

The new James Bond movie Skyfall has been out in theaters for about a month now, and as pretty much anybody visiting this site must already know, critics are calling it one of the best Bond films in decades. There are, of course, many reasons why the film has been met with the acclaim that it has. The breathtaking action sequences. Javier Bardem’s masterfully villainous performance. The way the film takes a step back and manages to capture the full weight of Judy Dench’s portrait of M, which has, largely unremarked, anchored the Bond series for nearly two decades.

But part of the acclaim surely has to do with director Sam Mendes and screenwriters  Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan’s attempts to allow the influence of modern world into franchise that has always offered the ultimate in wish fulfillment.  Is anyone in the world as poised and suave, even for a few minutes’ stretch, as Bond has been at nearly every moment of his fifty-year history? Probably not. And for perhaps as never before (forgetting, for now, certain scenes of the dreadful Die Another Day), Skyfall shows James Bond brought down to human proportions—injured, aging, psychologically compromised, his very vocation placed on the chopping block by members of the British government, his longtime employer in the crosshairs of a killer unlike any he’s ever before faced.

Not everyone outside the critics’ inner circles has been enamored with this approach. A number of the detractors I’ve talked to in the past few weeks have taken issue with the humbling of James Bond, their arguments boiling down to: I see what they did there. But that’s not the Bond I grew up with. The unconverted happen to be absolutely right. Skyfall’s Bond is a far cry from the Bond of yesteryear. But what really interests me is not whether or not Skyfall is a great film—or a true Bond film–but why the hell it is the way it is at all. Continue reading “Not Your Father’s Bond”