"Skyfall," the 23rd Bond film, dazzles. It's a splendid assault on the senses and the intellect, while solidly reincarnating the franchise, once again propelling it forward, a renewed momentum that began with the casting of Daniel Craig as Bond, James Bond, in "Casino Royale" in 2006.
In the aggregate, the films beg an interesting question: What is there about this character, JB, that is so incredibly enduring? Perhaps it's his fundamental atavism, his primal persona, sheathed in a bespoke tuxedo that gives him a patina of civility — stirred not shaken. We respond to this quasi-outlaw, this lethal assassin working with the imprimatur of the Royal Crown and the blessing of MI6.
What has definitely jacked up the last three films — and "Skyfall" is the quintessential example — is the recognition that the first, say, 30 minutes must be unambiguously compelling. Call it the Steven Spielberg/Indiana Jones template. The opening of "Casino Royale" is astonishing. Featuring a stomach-churning set piece that foreshadows what is to come. There is no foreplay. No backstory dialogue. It begins with an intensity that is both riveting and breathtaking and sets up the rest of the film.
The Other Son
In the case of "Skyfall," it's initial setup is even better, and the story quickly evolves into a stunning riff of controlled chaos and reserved British analysis. The film is rich with legacy moments, to include the de rigueur, over-the-top master villain, portrayed with psychopathic élan by Javier Bardem. And not to forget Bond's resurrection at the end of act one, his return to the service both expected and unexpected.
Judi Dench is wonderful once again — in fact perfect in every respect — as the dry, tart "M" whose character in "Skyfall" hints ever so subtly at being the Oedipal mother, always emotionally unavailable and commenting, somewhat strangely, that "orphans make the best agents."
Adding to the film's promise of more to come is an interesting, retro-Q, played with geeky coolness by Ben Wishaw (last seen in "Cloud Atlas"). He explains to Bond that gadgets and exploding pens are so yesterday. And true, when push comes to shove, it's all about Bond's athleticism and ability to dispatch the bad guys and never look back.
Bond is always casino-ready, always ready to put down his life on black or red, or engage in a high-stakes game of baccarat, his raw, primal instincts ever-accessible.
Bond is both complex and simple, how else to explain the power of this franchise, beginning in 1962 with "Dr. No," perpetually asking audiences to suspend their disbelief, which they've relished doing for decade after decade.
"Skyfall" may be one of the best Bond films ever. The photography is rich, shot by consummate cinematographer Roger Deakins, and the score, while Adele contemporary, is also as retro as the ride Bond has stashed in a London garage.
The Other Son
"The Other Son" risked becoming a cliché, its premise lifted from the classic tale of two small sons switched at birth.
But because of its context — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and its fine cast, the film tells a story that resonates in so many ways.
In "The Other Son," two infant boys are switched in a hospital in Haifa during a rocket attack. One boy, Joseph (Jules Sitruck), grows up an Israeli, the other, Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi) is a Palestinian. It is only because of an accidental blood test, taken when Joseph prepares to enter the Israeli Air Force, that the mistake is discovered.
The information is the equivalent of dropping a stone into a still pond. Slowly, but inexorably, the ripples begin to move outward, profoundly unsettling for both families as they grapple with a truth they are completely unprepared to confront.
Suddenly, they are faced with their deeply held prejudices that have spanned generations, as well as slowly coming to understand their unavoidable commonalities. Surprisingly, it is the two boys, now 18, who come to embrace one another as brothers, beginning the painfully slow but inexorable process of overcoming the walls, both literal and emotional, that separate the two peoples.
And so "The Other Son" gently and yet powerfully evolves into a film that illustrates the profound humanity of the two families while contrasting the differences between their lives, from the West Bank to Tel Aviv.