Tag: Pierce Brosnan

The Ghost Writer (2010)

The Ghost Writer (2010)

Conspiracies, lies and dirty politics surround a politician who definitely isn’t Blair in Polanski’s superb thriller

Director: Roman Polanski

Cast: Ewan McGregor (The Ghost), Pierce Brosnan (Adam Lang), Kim Cattrall (Amelia Bly), Olivia Williams (Ruth Lang), Tom Wilkinson (Professor Paul Emmett), Timothy Hutton (Sidney Kroll), Jon Bernthal (Rick Ricardelli), Tim Preece (Roy), Robert Pugh (Richard Rycart), David Rintoul (Stranger), Eli Wallach (Old Man), James Belushi (John Maddox)

An American publishing company is in dire straits. They’ve paid a fortune for the autobiography of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), once seen as a visionary liberal idol but now blamed for a deeply controversial war in Iraq (sound familiar?). Problem is his trusted aide Mike McCara – who is actually writing the book – has been found drowned on Martha’s Vineyard where Lang, his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and staff are staying. The book needs to be finished in a month – but it’s in an unpublishable mess. Who ya gonna call? A Ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) of celebrity memoirs to finish the job of course. But will the Ghost resist trying to investigate whatever McCara uncovered in Lang’s life that may have led to his suspicious death?

Adapted from a novel by Robert Harris – who turned from a strong supporter of Blair, to terminally disenchanted – The Ghost Writer comes to the screen as a superbly controlled, perfectly placed piece of tight-wound tension from Roman Polanski, that mixes wonderful elements of Hitchcockian menace and Seventies conspiracy thriller, not to mention lashings of his own Chinatownbut here switched to the doom-laden drizzle of New York, rather than the sunkissed glory of California.

Set on a grim, grey and foreboding Martha’s Vineyard (although, for obvious legal reasons, actually filmed in Potsdam), Polanski lets every scene grow in unsettling tension. Very little explicit is every said, but danger from unknown, unseen forces is a constant presence. Accompanied by a Herrmann-esque score from Alexandre Desplat (also with a hint of a twist on Jerry Goldsmith’s work on Chinatown), this is film made with such calm, patient authority that its exudes engrossing tension. Polanski employs some beautiful touches, worthy of Hitchcock: from the Ghost, uncertain if he is being followed when boarding a car ferry, making a desperate run for freedom; to a wonderful tracking shot at a book launch that follows a note containing a vital reveal, passed from hand to hand through a crowd to the guilty speaker.

The Ghost Writer also has neat moments of dark comedy which also feels reminiscent of Hitchcock’s ability to mix dark chuckles with oppressive tension. The Ghost’s recruitment as a writer – and his hilariously frank suggestion that political memoirs are boring beyond belief – is a lovely lightly comic entrée that completely fails to prepare us for the conspiracy thriller that follows in all the right ways. Stuck in Lang’s house on Martha’s Vineyard, the Ghost tries to secretly download a copy of the memoir he is only allowed to read under supervision: his attempt coincides, to his terror, with what turns out to be a test of the alarm system. In the background of a shot during a monologue from Lang, a worker struggles with wearied patience to clean the wind-filled grounds of leaves, constantly, dutifully, collecting them back up as they blow away.

These moments of lightness make the dark even blacker. We are constantly left guessing as to who knows what. Was McCara murdered? What mysteries lie in Lang’s university past that McCara considered so important? Lang and his wife oscillate from welcoming to coldly distant. Particularly so with Ruth Lang, a superb performance from Olivia Williams. Ruth has, quite possibly, been the power behind the Lang throne, but now seems less sure of where she stands. She’s tense, without making clear why and at times painfully blunt. Suffering no fools, brittle, sharply intelligent, coldly determined, her surprisingly vulnerability draws the Ghost in, despite him knowing its “a bad idea”.

But then The Ghost makes more than a few bad ones. Perhaps because he gets fed up with people thinking he’s stupid and is too keen to prove them wrong. Ewan McGregor is wonderful as a man who spends most of his time wearily ignoring digs at the fact he’s best known for ghosting the autobiography of a celebrity chef. The Ghost – as in Harris’ book he remains un-named, suitable for a man whose job is to pretend to be his client – seems to be a disconnected observer, but emerges as a dogged detective – even if he is painfully out of his depth and acting way beyond his expertise. He becomes increasingly panicked at the terrifying world of international politics and espionage, like a beginner swimmer dropped in the deep end, while unable to stop himself digging further, like picking at a scab.

The film picks at its own scab with the legacy of Blair. Brosnan’s confident, charismatic performance captures an impression of Blair while never trying to be an impersonation. He perfectly conveys the easy charm and casual but shallow warmth of the professional politician, but the slightest scratch of the surface reveals a man who feels hard-done-by and undervalued and sick of being judged for making the tough calls. Polanski allows him moments of sympathy: it’s hard not to see his point when he makes the case for what many would call intrusive security and the self-righteousness of his persecutor, former foreign secretary Ryecart (Robert Pugh, channelling Robin Cook) hardly warms the viewer (or the Ghost) to him.

The Ghost Writer manages to make its political parallels – especially about Iraq – pointed but not too heavy handed. (There is a lovely performance from David Rintoul as a calmly spoken former-army type who turns out to be a rabid anti-war protester). It imaginatively fictionalises a version of history, humanising characters who could otherwise be crude caricatures. The cast are wonderful and this is an intelligent, gripping, classic conspiracy thriller. Mastered by Polanski, who assembles the film with such control that it takes a cold grasp of your heart without ever seeming to overwork itself. As the credits roll, Polanski having left us with a poetically tragic image of pages blowing emptily in the wind on a London street, you’ll realise how the quiet doom so expertly built could only have led to one thing. The Ghost shoulda forgot about it: its Chinatown.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh take on big media in the fun Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Cast: Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Jonathan Pryce (Elliot Carver), Michelle Yeoh (Wai Lin), Teri Hatcher (Paris Carver), Joe Don Baker (Jack Wade), Ricky Jay (Henry Gupta), Gotz Otto (Richard Stamper), Vincent Schiavelli (Dr Kaufman), Judi Dench (M), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson), Geoffrey Palmer (Admiral Roebuck), Julian Fellowes (Minister)

For Pierce Brosnan’s second Bond film, they knew there was life in the old dog yet. GoldenEye’s success meant Tomorrow Never Dies could be all about bangs and fun, a Moore-esque caper with a modern touch. And fun it certainly is – exciting, amusing and with some top gadgets. This doesn’t re-invent the gun barrel, but it gives us a hell of a ride.

A British Navy ship is sunk in Chinese waters (the navy is always so luckless in Bond films!) and a Chinese MiG is shot down. Each side blames the other: but MI6 believe they are both being played against each other by a third party – media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). There’s 48 hours to find the truth and stop a war. Best send Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to Carver’s HQ to shake things up, not least because he has a past relationship with Carver’s wife Paris (Teri Hatcher). Soon partnering with Chinese Intelligence agent Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), the two work to expose Carver’s dastardly schemes to start a war to increase his ratings and secure those lucrative Chinese broadcast rights.

Tomorrow Never Dies sometimes has a by-the-numbers feel to it – probably because the script was written on the go, with only locations and set-pieces decided in advance. Usually that’s a recipe for disaster, but with TND it works. Probably because everyone looks like they are having a whale of a time making it and the tongue is wedged so firmly in the cheek it’s practically touching the ear. And its concept of a mogul using fake news to manipulate the world seems alarmingly prescient today – think how powerful Elliot Carver would be if he ran Twitter (as he surely would today).

You can forgive Tomorrow Never Dies almost anything because it has so many stand-out sequences. The film has a (literally) explosive start, with Bond racing against time to fly some nuclear missiles out of a terrorist trading camp, before a British cruise missile blows the base sky high (and “make Chenoboyl look like a picnic”). Naturally the destruction as Bond lays waste to the camp makes you wonder why they wasted the money on a cruise missile when Bond can destroy the place for free.

Front-and-centre though is the “Bond drives a car through a shoot-out on the back-seat with a remote control” sequence. Which when written down, captures only about 5% of the sequence’s delight. Narrated by an over-cautious sat nav (constantly warning about hazards ahead, while the car is pummelled by bullets), we get all the gadgets we expect (bullet-proof glass, rockets, caltrops, a buzz saw that conveniently rises to the exact height required to cut through a steel wire obstacle) while also watching Bond masterfully steer a car around a multi-storey car-park on his phone from the back seat. Of course, Brosnan knows it’s silly and telegraphs his enjoyment, letting out a chuckle when he reinflates his tyres after driving over his own caltrops (I love this moment).

Tell me he’s not having fun.

There is a cursory sense of mystery, but TND wisely doesn’t have much patience with that. Bond is nominally under-cover at Carver’s HQ as a banker (inevitably using his own name) but, just like his Moore-heyday, Bond’s undercover skills are hilariously bad and his hints clankingly blunt. Fortunately Carver follows Bond villain form, confirming any suspicions by ordering his goons to beat Bond black-and-blue (more fool them, as Bond uses every instrument in a sound proof recording studio to best the baddies).

This was Brosnan in absolutely top form. He’s extremely charming, handles the action very well and gets more than a few grins. He looks like a guy just delighted to be there, living the dream of playing Bond. He’s both self-deprecating and cocksure and manages to be both a believable ruthless killer and a sort of charming little-boy-lost when needed. He loves a pun in a way no other Bond apart from Moore has done (“brushing up on a little Danish” indeed…) and his chemistry with Michelle Yeoh is superb, the two playing off each other like a sort of all-action Morecambe and Wise.

It’s a Bond where comedy is to the fore. An expensive satellite at Carver’s HQ is introduced (“It’s worth $300 million. You break it, you bought it”) solely so Bond can trash it without a second glance. A hitman (hilariously played in a cameo by Vincent Schiavelli) assures Bond he could “shoot him from Stuttgart” and still make it look like a suicide then apologises with embarrassment when he has to delay the hit to ask Bond how to unlock his car (“I don’t know what to say. I feel like an idiot.”). Moneypenny even calls Bond a “cunning linguist” after she interrupts by phone Bond’s tryst with a Danish professor (a joke which I certainly didn’t get when I first watched the film at a young age).

The lighter side of the script works more successfully than some of the attempts at emotion. The script bluntly states Bond had deep feelings for Paris Carver, but this never comes across at all in the performances. Probably because the emotions were torpedoed by the blatantly obvious lack of chemistry between Brosnan and Hatcher (allegedly they couldn’t stand each other). This is made all the more obvious by contrasting it to the delightful chemistry between Brosnan and Yeoh (watch the motorcycle chase with them handcuffed together – brilliant stuff, and Yeoh is excellent in this). When Paris is dispatched early in the film, Bond is cut up about it for literally 10 seconds before he’s having a whale of a time in that car park chase.

“There’s no news…like BAD news!”

Like many Bond films you can see how the franchise had become besotted with the latest “cool thing” in cinema. In this case, the film seems deeply in love with John-Woo-Hong-Kong-action gunplay. Bond probably fires more automatic machine guns in this film than he does in all the rest of the franchise put together, and the film’s finale (the dullest set-piece) is a run-of-the-mill shoot-out on a stealth boat, that feels pretty familiar from the series’ countless “face off in a sub” endings.

Spottiswoode directs with a straightforward lack of flair. Pryce has fun going OTT (and channelling Gus Hedges from Drop the Dead Donkey) as Carver even if the part is a bit under-written. But the main joy is in watching Brosnan have a huge amount of fun running around, blowing things up and shamelessly smirking through some dodgy puns. His Bond may never have been the most complex interpretation, but at his best I’m not sure anyone else was as purely enjoyable. Much like the film.

Die Another Day (2002)

Pierce Brosnan signs off as Bond with the mess that is Die Another Day

Director: Lee Tamahori

Cast: Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Halle Berry (Jinx Johnson), Toby Stephens (Gustav Graves), Rosamund Pike (Miranda Frost), Rick Yune (Tang Ling Zao), Judi Dench (M), John Cleese (Q), Michael Madsen (Damian Falco), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson), Will Yun Lee (Colonal Tan-Sun Moon), Kenneth Tsang (General Moon), Madonna (Verity)

Die Another Day was the highest grossing Bond film ever released. So why was it almost four years before another one was made? Put simply, because this one weren’t no bloody good. Released at the Bond series’ 40th anniversary, Die Another Day was meant to be a celebration of everything Bond – instead it’s like the final nail in the coffin of an entire lifecycle in the franchise that started probably around the early Roger Moore films. When Bond came back out after this, he was radically different. 

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is sent undercover to Korea to take out renegade Korean Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee). The mission is a success – but Bond is betrayed and captured by the North Koreans. Coming out of Korean prison a year later, Bond is no longer wanted by MI6. So he goes off on his own to find out who betrayed him – and finds newly emerged diamond businessman Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) might have something to do with it. With a trail that starts in Hong Kong and heads to Cuba, the UK, Iceland and back to Korea he’ll work alongside CIA agent Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry) to find out how this all ties together and get his revenge.

Die Another Day starts a bit like a Connery Bond – and about half way through it segues into being perhaps the most ridiculously overblown Roger Moore-esque Bond you’ll ever see. I suppose you could say this was the scriptwriters trying to capture the essence of 40 years in one movie. But actually it’s probably just incoherent scriptwriting and stupid storytelling. It starts trying to be grounded – Bond is captured and tortured for a year! – but then shrugs off any aftereffects of this year of hell with lackadaisical ease before throwing us into the sort of “Ice palace! Invisible cars! A weapon that channels the power of the sun!” malarkey that even Roger might have thought was a little bit too much.

It’s not helped by the fact that the entire film is so shoddily put together and so lazy in its execution. The one liners in this film are terrible – there are no double entendres in this film only single entrendres (words like thrust, pleasure, weapon and mouthful are used with gleeful abandon) – and far from being a playful exercise in Bond’s cheekiness are just hand-in-the-mouth embarrassing. But that’s almost as nothing compared to the woeful special effects. Even in 2002, nothing in this film looked real. 

I hardly know where to start with the awful plasticky sheen of the effects here. The film opens with Bond and fellow agents surfing (!) into a deserted island – at the end of which Brosnan in front of blatant blue screen rips off his mask to show it-was-definitely-him. As if that wasn’t bad enough (Bond surfs? I’m out!) Bond surfs AGAIN in the movie halfway through, using a parachute as a sail to escape possibly the least convincing wave ever put onto film. It really has to be seen to be believed (or rather not believed). That’s not to mention the wonky overblown final plane sequence, or a laughably unrealistic looking Jinx dive from a cliff down into the water below.

Brosnan probably tries his best in all this, but even he can’t save this total mess. How does a film that started with Bond in prison and emerging damaged and on a gritty quest for revenge end with a villain wearing a robot suit controlling the sun? The script after the first 15 minutes gives Brosnan nothing to play with. The film loses all interest in the traitor plotline about halfway through, and when she is unmasked (in a twist that surprises no one at all) Bond barely seems to care. Pierce himself looks frankly too old and a little out of shape (his running in this film with his arms pumping up to his face looks terrible), something only magnified by the youth of his co-stars. 

Not that I’m saying his co-stars are any good either. When this film came out there was a brief flurry of excitement that Halle Berry’s Jinx would be worth a franchise of her own. That died shortly after the film came out – this is a character that acts tough when needed, but still needs to be saved twice in quick succession by Bond, who says faux-tough things like “Yo Mama!” but has barely two personality facets to rub together. Berry simply does her bit and meets the requirement of looking sexy and fighting. Mind you she still fares better than an embarrassing Toby Stephens, whose villain is so paper-thin the actor seems to have taken the bizarre decision to channel Alan Partridge. Rosamund Pike’s fencing MI5 agent barely registers.

Needless to say Bond beds her – as he beds all the women in this with a perfunctory inevitability that fits the box-ticking exercise of the whole film. The film is littered with references to past Bond films, although that is probably only going to make you want to watch almost any of the other films instead. Perhaps to try and up the ante and make this one “even biggerer and betterer than before” there are more gadgets than ever before. These are topped with the crowning turd of the invisible car, a nadir for the franchise, a senseless advantage (Bond at one point follows directly behind two walking heavies in the car – it’s invisible NOT silent for goodness sake!) and something so overblown that however much the producers at the time tried to justify it by pointing at military technology just sounds silly. Don’t get met started on the bizarre VR training sequence Bond carries out (later replayed for a grotesquely demeaning Moneypenny joke that made me feel sorry for Samantha Bond).

But then the whole thing basically sounds silly. Giving the villain a huge ice palace lair might have seemed like a cheeky nod, but again it just looks absurd and the producers desperately trying to find a location that hasn’t been used before. The entire film feels like a rushed attempt to get something out for the 40th anniversary (perhaps the rush helps explain the insane product placement, leading to the film being nicknamed Buy Another Day). The script has been assembled from the off-cuts of other Bond films. There are no fresh ideas at all and everything that happens in the film has the air of “well this sort of thing happens in Bond films”. The script and special effects feel half finished. Rather than a tribute to how Bond was done in the past, it feels like a tombstone. Here lies James Bond c. 1967-2002. No wonder under Daniel Craig he needed to be reborn as someone who felt vaguely in touch with something approaching reality.

The Long Good Friday (1980)

Bob Hoskins rules London – but for how long? – in classic Brit gangster masterpiece The Long Good Friday

Director: John Mackenzie

Cast: Bob Hoskins (Harold Shand), Helen Mirren (Victoria), Derek Thompson (Jeff), Bryan Marshall (Harris), PH Moriarty (Razors), Dave King (Parky), Eddie Constantine (Charlie), Paul Freeman (Colin), Stephen Davies (Tony), Paul Barber (Errol), Pierce Brosnan (Irishman)

The Long Good Friday nearly turned into a one-hour TV special starring a dubbed Bob Hoskins. The fact that it didn’t – and that today it can stand as one of the greatest British films ever made – is thanks to George Harrison’s Handmade Films, which bought the rights and saved the film. Thank God they did, as this is brilliant: thrilling, dangerous, intense but witty, strangely tender, satirical and smart. Fantastically made and wonderfully acted, it’s not just a great gangster film, it’s a great film.

Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) is the undisputed gangland boss of London, desperate to turn legitimate. He has a plan for development of London’s dockside into a paradise of office blocks and apartments. All he needs is a big investor to support his “corporation” to make the final push. On an Easter weekend he prepares to greet an American investor from a similar “company” to his own. But as Shand prepares for this life-changing weekend, his business is hit by a wave of killings and bombings that seem targeted at shattering his organisation. What’s behind this? Who is “having a go”? And how does this link with a mysterious money shipment we witnessed at the start of the film? Shand’s going to find out – and has to do so without his investors getting cold feet.

The Long Good Friday is a well-written, brilliantly structured mystery mixed with some brutal gangland violence. Mackenzie’s film is lean and mean but laced with dry, biting humour. Everything in the film works perfectly, and it really understands the veneer of culture, class and decency that gangsters like Shand like to put over their crime dealings.

Not that Shand isn’t a decent bloke of course. Bob Hoskins is simply superb as Shand, a likeable, strangely decent guy at first, who seems to somehow shrink and twist as the film progresses and he is less and less able to control the anger he keeps bottled up. Shand clearly cares deeply for those around him, but he’s also clearly stubborn and convinced of his own superiority. Hoskins brings the part a humane gravitas, a force of nature fury that burns through the film. And when confronted with opponents he can’t understand, he still tries to use the rules of gangland to take them on.

Of course these rules are completely unsuited for his IRA opponents. Despite the advice of his pet policeman Parky, Shand is confident that he can deal with these bomb-toting fanatics. Even worse, he thinks that they are basically playing by the same rules that powered his own rise to the top of the gangster tree. Part of the tragedy of the part is seeing someone who essentially appears relatively likeable at the start of the film fall back on the violence and rage that powered his assent to the very top. Needless to say the IRA aren’t intimidated by cockney thugs, and have no intention of letting Shand get away with his attempts to strike back. 

Here is a film brave enough to not only show the IRA at its centre, but to make them as effective and ruthless as this. Not even our geezer gangsters can take them on, and the poor plods seem petrified as soon as they rear their head. Could there be a more cutting criticism of Britain’s policy in Ireland? Terrorism has hardly gone away since – you imagine Shand being equally outmatched by Al-Qaida.

As well as a gripping gangster film, The Long Good Friday is a prescient and intelligent criticism of Thatcherism. Shand is actually pretty much spot-on with his vision of London being redeveloped into a political and economic power-house, one of the major cities of Europe. Many of the locations the film uses would be unrecognisible today, as they are all sites of offices and apartments. Shand has a 1980s swagger to him, a barrow-boy made good who likes to think of himself as a visionary businessman. He’s desperate to grab for himself a bit of the new money he senses could be washing around Thatcher’s Britain. So the film makes a nice satire of the “loadsamoney” generation, as well as of the gangster world of the East End. Shand’s yacht and flat are the quintessential yuppie pads, and Shand’s motivation is raking the cash in.

British hubris actually seems to lie at the heart of the whole film. Shand’s swagger and super-confident, “Britain reborn” attitudes are all based in his firm belief that Britain has its own special destiny. Of course, as events begin to hit home, this sense of British pride (represented by Shand’s determination to reshape London into a city of glass and office complexes) begins to shrivel under the weight of events. Shand is reduced to angrily denouncing everyone from the Irish to his potential American partners to the other nations of Europe.

(In fact it’s interesting watching the film in the light of Brexit – Shand would on the surface seem to be the poster boy for a certain type of UKIPer, but he’s actually passionately excited about the opportunities the Union presents, and the centrality of London to that world. He’d almost certainly loath Farage.)

All this thematic content – and this is a hugely British film, instantly recognisable to anyone who has grown up here – gets swept up in this brilliant gangster flick. The acting is sublime. Helen Mirren is a stand-out as a woman who is a very equal partner in Shand’s business empire, just as smart and just as ruthless. Derek Thompson (him off Casualty!) is good as a slightly sleazy major-domo, as is PH Moriarty as a gangland heavy (he certainly looks the part!). Future stars like Kevin McNally, Paul Freeman, Dexter Fletcher (as a kid) and most notably Pierce Brosnan (in his first acting job as a handsome IRA hitman) fill out the cast.

Brilliantly acted, tightly directed and full of great cultural and political depth, with terrific pace, scintillating action, engrossing tension, a deceptively simple story and a great script: The Long Good Friday surely stands as a landmark British film. And it has one of the finest final sequences you’ll see, which considering it revolves solely around Hoskins sitting in a car is saying something.

The World is Not Enough (1999)

Pierce Brosnan falls into Sophie Marceau’s clutches. Time for one last screw.

Director: Michael Apted

Cast: Pierce Brosnan (James Bond), Sophie Marceau (Elektra King), Robert Carlyle (Renard), Denise Richards (Dr Christmas Jones), Robbie Coltrane (Valentin Zukovsky), Judi Dench (M), Michael Kitchen (Bill Tanner), Colin Salmon (Charles Robinson), Desmond Llewelyn (Q), John Cleese (R), Samantha Bond (Miss Moneypenny), Ulrich Thomsen (Sasha Davidov)

I’ve long been of the belief that Pierce Brosnan’s Bonds were each a decline from the last, no matter how much money and action were thrown at the screen. TWINE in no way shakes that opinion. It’s a film I remember when I saw it in the cinema twenty years ago being a little, well, disappointed by.

After the assassination of an oil tycoon in MI6 headquarters, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is assigned to protect his daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau) as she vows to complete the pipeline her father started. MI6 believes her life is endangered by her former kidnapper Renard (Robert Carlyle). Heading to Eastern Europe, Bond soon finds himself in the middle of a complex game, with a mysterious string puller, that seems to revolve around the stealing of a nuclear warhead and the kidnap of M (Judi Dench), with only nuclear scientist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) to help.

TWINE is all about its electrifying opening sequence. It’s possibly the biggest, most exciting introduction to a Bond movie yet. Not only does it have a truly compelling action sequence in the boat chase down the Thames, but there’s plenty of plot, tension, mystery, revelation and humour – Bond straightens his tie under water – to match the entire content of some Bond capers. Brosnan is deadly in the Bilbao sequence – you believe he’s a killer – he’s working out of the money trap is Bond at his most ingenious and the beautifully filmed and edited boat chase is an absolute wonder. It’s edge of the seat stuff and when it finishes, you can just imagine a cinema full of people letting out a sigh of relief and kicking back to enjoy the rest of the film.

In fact that’s part of the problem. As Anthony Lane said in his review of the film “It’s the best 15 minutes in film this year. Let’s pack up and go home”. The problem is literally nothing in the film that follows can even hope to live up to this – and by the end, it’s practically given up trying. How does a film that started so vibrantly end with such a hackneyed fight on a submarine, with our heroes squabbling over something so fiddily it looks like an ink cartridge?

In between the phenomenal start and the damp squib ending, the film pings off to a lot locations – Azerbaijan! Turkey! Bilbao! – but everywhere still has the same bland, identikit feel to it, for all the shots of the odd famous landmark. That’s not to mention the rather laborious plot that ties the film together. It’s a film that feels like it’s trying to make a series of big statements about our hidden selves, revenge, manipulation – but falls short each time. It’s wrapped inside the most elliptical villain scheme I can remember. I only watched it a few days ago and even I’m not sure why Elektra wanted to blow up that damn submarine in Turkey.

Bond and Renard face off in the underwhelming sub sequence

Increasingly it becomes bogged down in machinations that feel recycled from previous films in the series. Shady Russians, corrupt security guards, chases down the snowy mountains, fiddily endings in old style nuclear subs. The film’s second biggest set piece – the attack on a cavier factory – has a rather formulaic inevitability about it. 

It has its moments of cool and charm, but in many ways it’s a blunt and crude film. What sort of eclectic film casting selects people as wildly diverse as Goldie and Ulrich Thomson as sidekicks? Robbie Coltrane returns as Zukovsky, but his character has been broadened from his first outing in GoldenEye into some sort of comic relief, a cane carrying buffoon a million miles from the ruthless ex-hitman in his first appearance. We even get a return of the “MI6 accidentally stumbles in on Bond doing the nasty” closing gag so beloved of the Roger Moore era. By the end of the film it really feels we’ve come a million miles from the ruthless efficiency and dynamic action it opened with.

The film’s most interesting beat, without a doubt, is Elektra King. It’s a stroke of inventiveness to turn the character established as the Bond girl, into the film’s villain.  Elektra uses many of the tropes of traditional Bond girls – vulnerability, sensuality, playfulness, a certain gutsiness – and repackages them as villainous tools, weapons of manipulation and deceit. Sophie Marceau is very good as possibly the most intriguing villain of the whole series, and the film neatly leaves open the question of how far her experiences twisted her, or whether her sociopathy was a deep lying trait. Her chemistry with Brosnan seems at times a little forced, but she gets most of the meaty content of the story and handles it with gusto. It’s especially neat to see how Marceau adjusts and adapts her performance for each person she encounters – with Reynard she’s playful and infatuated, with Bond she’s more aloofly sensual.

Denise Richards gets all nuclear physicist

She certainly fares better than poor Denise Richards, playing a character who feels like she was written backwards from the film’s closing punchline (“I thought Christmas only comes once a year” indeed). As if the producers wanted to counterbalance the innovativeness of Elektra, Richards feels like she’s wandered in from a classic Moore film: nominally an expert in something grand sounding (nuclear physics – and you can have a £1 from me if you ever meet anyone who believes Denise Richards has a PhD in rocket science) but really a damsel in distress dressed in hot pants. I’d further add that Brosnan already looks far too old for her.

The film’s best asset though is Brosnan’s Bond. The more I rewatch Brosnan’s efforts, the more I feel sorry the guy didn’t get more of the sort of material Dalton and Craig received either side of him. He clearly has the acting chops to do something a bit more interesting with the character, but his Bond is always a bit tonally confused – one moment he will stare viciously at a fallen opponent, the next he’ll be wearing a shit-eating grin and perving over ladies’ underwear in a nightclub. Brosnan does both these things, I hasten to add, extremely well: this film is probably his peak action performance, and at several points (not least his first encounter with Reynard) his sense of physical danger is jaw dropping. TWINE is a kind of perfect embodiment of his era: 1/3rd Connery to 2/3rd Moore.

For all that the big picture of the film gets away from Apted, he does have a good eye for smaller moments that stick with you – the tie moment, Brosnan’s look into the camera after his first kill. Moments like this appear throughout the film: a cut back to Zukovsky’s grin when Bond’s car is destroyed, the pinpoint bullet shot that hits a plate of glass right in front of an unblinking Reynard. Moments like this get increasingly lost as the film pushes on and becomes more and more formulaic and traditional, but they are still there.

That’s what it all comes back to: the film is not the sum of its parts. Moments stand out, but the whole thing really doesn’t. Everything feels a little too pre-packaged. Even an actor as brilliant as Robert Carlyle (the sort of actor everyone said should play a Bond villain) is lost in the mix, his performance as forgettable as a million other “ruthless anarchist” types we’ve seen before. There are some neat homages – I like the painting of Bernard Lee in MI6 HQ – but too much of it feels like more of the same, told with a professionalism that crushes the life out of individualism. So while it has moments that excite and entertain, as well as elements (such as Elektra King) that feel unique and original, too much of it also feels like, well, any other Bond film. For all its energy, it feels like watching a world-class athlete run on the spot.

FINAL COMMENT:This film does get some credit however for how tastefully it handles the final scenes of Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Tragically Llewelyn died in a car crash shortly before the film was released, but his work here is possibly some of the best he contributed to the series. Never let them see you bleed and always have an escape route.