By Thomas Griffiths (Cardiff)
GoldenEye is probably the greatest James Bond film I have seen, up until Casino Royale of course, and it stars Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Judi Dench and Alan Cumming, as well as supporting performances by Gottfried John and Robbie freaking Coltrane. This film came out in 1995, and when I first saw this movie, I have to say that, from the very first few minutes it blew me away, and I’ll explain why later on. There’s no simple way around saying how much I love this movie, except for saying that at the time of its release GoldenEye was the most modern, probably the most dark and brutal Bond film to date, and that’s primarily down to Martin Campbell’s amazing direction of the story that takes place in this film. The camera-work, cinematography and screenplay in this movie is, to this day, stunning, because it makes the world that the film surrounds appear completely real, the camera shots that follow on without just snapping from one person to the next make this world seem authentic, and that’s down to Campbell’s brilliance at directing this movie. Firstly, a lot of people refuse blatantly to give Tina Turner’s title song enough credit – it is one of the best Bond themes I’ve ever heard, especially because it centres on the story itself, and once you get into the movie you’ll understand why.
Pierce Brosnan makes his debut in this movie, and he had a lot riding on him to make this movie a good one by making his performance in this movie great. It had been six years since the last Bond film, six years since License to Kill (which is an underrated movie in my opinion, in which Timothy Dalton gives a very great performance as Bond and the villain is actually really good), and Brosnan could have probably continued being brilliant as an actor and being well known in general without having to star in a James Bond movie. I’ll say, right here, that I was extremely pleased with his performance. Is he as cool as Connery? Yes. Is he as campy and funny as Moore? No to the first, yes, to the second. Is he as dark as Craig? Hell, no. But the biggest part of Brosnan’s performance was that it was absolutely down-to-earth. His entire performance in GoldenEye was realistic because he acted like he was playing a real human being with pain and limits and darkness, not a superhero or an Austin Powers-esque comic display. In this film, Bond spends basically the entire movie seeking revenge on someone, and even after that person changes the goal stays the same. Also, Brosnan portrays an extremely vulnerable character who is, underneath all the guns, fast cars and witty one-liners, actually a very flawed character with difficulties of his own which play into his role throughout the movie – he is faced with dilemmas and controversies in terms of what he is fighting for at a number of points in this movie, especially concerning being patriotic for the right people, and being able to kill people cold-bloodedly in pursuit of his goals
This film is centred on Bond trying to recover a powerful military satellite called the GoldenEye, which is a satellite that has the ability to EMP a target’s ass off, leaving it vulnerable to attack. This satellite changes hands at certain points in the movie, and you must understand that, in those days, the ability to cut off the electricity of an entire military base was kind of scary, this was post-Cold War so there was still a lot of tension over one side using advanced technology against the other, and the consequences that follow because of it. That’s another stab at the realism of this movie because it seems like it is actually set in the mid-1990s. The capabilities of this satellite are actually possible, which makes this film very compelling because the stakes make sense in terms of why they are so high. One other thing about this movie in terms of realism is the treatment of the new Bond Girl, Natalya Simonova. This is one very peculiar turn on the Bond Girl archetype because not only is she pretty, as is to be predicted, but she also has depth and complexity and conscience to her. You understand her predicament and what she is going through, and the things she does make sense in this movie because she actually seems like an ordinary human woman, not just eye-candy for the audience or comic relief for the kids.
By far, my favourite part of this entire movie is the main villain, Alec Trevelyan. Sean Bean playing Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye is some of the best acting I have ever seen in my entire life. This guy was phenomenal in this movie, his performance was pure gold, even by the standards of the great Sean Bean. I loved him in this movie, and not simply because Sean Bean is an actor I really, really love, but because his performance as a villain, again, was completely and utterly realistic. He was an incredibly complicated character, who looked and sounded and acted realistically and not too eccentrically, and most importantly you could understand completely why he does what he does: His parents were Lienz Cossacks, who were Russian soldiers who turned on Stalin after the Second World War and sided with Britain, and the British turned them back to Stalin so the Cossacks were all executed. Trevelyan’s parents survived the execution but, shamed by being outlawed, his parents killed themselves, and Trevelyan went on to work for the British government. Trevelyan remembers his parents, though, and his plan to use GoldenEye against Britain itself is all about him taking revenge for his parents. This entire situation is completely real because it is historically loyal to real life. Sean Bean captured the complexity of his character with some of the best efforts in acting that I have ever seen. Also, a really important part of his role in the movie is that he was once 006, Bond’s partner and childhood comrade, and this film is largely dependent on the hero-villain relationship between Bond and Trevelyan. This makes both characters so much more interesting because they have personalities that collide violently with one another in so many interesting ways.
Another thing I must acclaim the film for is the other acting choices for the supporting characters: Firstly, Judi Dench as M is probably one of the best casting choices for a supporting character in a pre-Craig Bond movie. She was a real breath of fresh air in comparison to the very good performances and attitudes of the previous incarnations of M. I remember one point when Tanner, played by Michael Kitchen, refers to her as ‘the Evil Queen of Numbers’, and then she shows up and says ‘If I want sarcasm, I will talk to my children’, and at that very point in this movie I was rolling around on the floor at how really funny, really unusual a moment that was. She also says to Bond, in one of the best monologues Judi Dench has given, that she will take no shit from him, that she has no complaints about sending him to his death if it has to be done to get the job done.
One other performance is Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp – she was very good in this movie, and I honestly thought she would be the Bond Girl at first, based on the great banter between them in that baccarat scene at the start of the film. Famke Janssen, I think, is a very good actress in her own right, and she is good in this movie, though not the best part of this movie. Her character was rather frightening, because she acted like a crazy little harpy who literally crushes people between her thighs. The second best supporting performance in this movie is Robbie Coltrane as Zukovsky – Coltrane always gives a very great performance, and he plays a ruthless and cunning Russian gangster and he’s met Bond before in his life, the incident leaving him crippled, and when Bond meets him he actually acts like he’s afraid because he knows that Zukovsky is dangerous – there are so many villains in this movie who are presented as though they could be the main villain, which makes the real main villain in Trevelyan all the more compelling
As I said, I loved the start of this movie, and that was more or less down to the stunt work – the stunt work is overwhelming in this movie, it begins with an incredible sequence where Bond jumps off a dam. Now, I have a friend who is afraid of heights and, when this scene is shown and he watches this movie with me, he shivers because it looks so real. The stunts in this movie, including the awesome tank chase, the helicopter escape, the amazing plane crash. It looks great, it looks real, all of the sequences with stunts look extremely well-done. Also, the climax of this movie contains some of the best combinations of action-movie elements I have seen in a Bond movie before Daniel Craig. The pen-spinning scene is very tense, almost like Die Hard or Terminator 2, and it goes completely, undeniably without saying that the final fight scene between Bond and Trevelyan is fantastic – it’s brutal, it’s fast-paced, it’s incredibly well-choreographed, it doesn’t look campy or overtly comical because it’s understood that these are two allies-turned-archenemies who have trained together for years and thus know every move the other can and will make, which also makes Trevelyan a more dangerous character because he knows Bond so well. And this scene ends with some of the best lines in a Pierce Brosnan movie: ‘For England, James?’ ‘No. For me.’
Having said that, the script and timing of this movie is terrific, it sounds like the type of thing that people would say, and when they are said they sound really, really awesome. This movie behaves as if it is happening in the real world, which makes it a very refreshing and extremely compelling story. Most of the incredible script-work is focused on the characters of Bond and Trevelyan, there’s one scene where Trevelyan says ”I’ve set the timers for six minutes, the same six minutes you gave me. It was the least I could do for a “friend”, and he starts laughing hysterically, and that’s brilliant. It’s the type of thing you’d say to someone who has wronged you, you’d take the stuff they’ve done and said to you and you’d blow it right up in their ugly faces. One of the funniest lines in the entire movie is when Boris Grishenko, played by Alan Cumming, just stands up, punches the air with both hands and screams ‘I AM INVINCIBLE!’, which is basically most of the stuff he does but the thing that saves him from being a complete joke in the movie is the fact that his character does stuff – he is a computer genius who sides with the villain and is really overconfident for understandable reasons. His scenes with Natalya make him look and sound like a normal person, which is really impressive because his character was just short of being a one-dimensional comic disaster.
The best scene in terms of script in the entire film, though, is undeniably the scene where Trevelyan and Bond meet and Trevelyan reveals that he is the main villain. That is some of the greatest confrontational dialogue ever put to film, because it shows just how different these two characters are. Throughout the entire scene, Bond’s only reactions are ‘It was our duty’, ‘I trusted you, Alec’, ‘You betrayed me’, but Trevelyan turns every single response against him by giving him moral responses which make sense, which are actually understandable because they exist. Trevelyan also takes some elements of Bond’s character (The fact that his heart is always to the mission, and that he is ‘Her Majesty’s loyal terrier’) and throws them in his face, and Bond can do nothing but feebly use duty and elementary patriotism to justify what Trevelyan is angry about. Another great element of this scene is the emotional depth and complexity to it – Bond is horrified at being betrayed, at his friend being alive after all these years after such a powerfully emotional ‘death’, whereas Trevelyan is completely and utterly monstrous, he is cynical, he is cold, he is truly diabolical as a character. This entire movie probably would have revolved around this scene alone, because it shows the integral characters of the hero and the villain butt heads in terms of views, morals, motives and opinions.
One of the most predictable parts of this entire movie was the relationship between Bond and Natalya, and normally the Bond girl relationship is an obstacle for the actual story, with the obvious exception of Goldfinger and The Man with the Golden Gun. However, here, because both characters are human beings with complications and moral battles of their own, their relationship and scenes together seem entirely real. Also, in a similar way to Trevelyan, Natalya also takes elements of Bond’s character and uses them against him, mainly the fact that he acts as though killing people in the blink of an eye doesn’t bother him in the slightest. Because all of her friends are dead, you understand why she disagrees with senselessly killing people in the pursuit of ambition, success or duty. This is very refreshing in a Bond movie because the Bond girl is more than just a tanned, statuesque figure in a bikini, she actually provides character and conflicts for Bond, as well as reasons for people to root for her.
GoldenEye is an absolutely terrific movie, one of my favourite movies that I’ve seen, one of the best Bond movies thus far and easily the best pre-Craig Bond movies ever. The acting performances are incredible, the stunts and action is sensational, the characters and story are great as hell, it’s an amazing movie.
I’m giving it 10/10.