October 21, 2017

007 Days of 007: TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)

Jake’s Take: One Image from Tomorrow Never Dies (Roger Spottiswoode, 1997)

The image of a brooding Pierce Brosnan prompts reflection on his portrayal of Bond.

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“You forgot the first rule of mass media, Elliot. Give the people what they want!”

While I said time has been kind to George Lazenby, it has not been so to Pierce Brosnan. He had his four films, and his performance ultimately aimed toward that of a quintessential Bond, riding the fence between the cool menace of Connery and the wisecracking humor of Moore. In Daniel Craig’s wake, however, the gravity Brosnan brought to some scenes—such as the one from the image above—exerts far less force in retrospect. I very much liked him when he came into the role, and I still like this brief scene quite a bit.

Ultimately, I enjoy it for its quiet interiority. Bond knows that, after he has disrupted the news network launch of mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), someone will be coming to threaten, hurt, or kill him. What we see is Bond’s relaxation (the vodka) followed by his preparation (attaching the silencer to his PPK). It is a slight nod to Dr. No, but this scene still felt novel, even in the shadow of Dalton’s more recent serious take. There is another scene like this a little later, where Bond turns the tables on Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli) and points Kaufman’s own gun at him in a struggle. When Kaufman begs, “I’m just a professional doing a job,” Bond coolly replies, “Me too,” and pulls the trigger. Again, it’s a pretty good scene, but Brosnan’s darker moments no longer carry the impact they once did. To be fair, the power of this scene was also offset by Schiavelli’s entirely hammy take on the expert hitman.

When his dramatic edge is dulled, then, we are then left with Brosnan’s humor, which now very much overshadows his more serious moments (though I’d argue the first half of Die Another Day as an exception to this). Time and a swing toward even greater seriousness has put Brosnan more on the Moore side of the spectrum, if you will. Only recently did I also realize another problematic aspect to the performance—namely, an unsettling violence to Brosnan’s romantic interactions with members of the opposite sex. The embraces often come off as overly strong-armed, and the biting gets to be overdone. This is most pronounced during Brosnan’s scene with the woefully miscast Teri Hatcher, which also admittedly has some roots in their dislike of one another on set.

As for Tomorrow Never Dies, it is the worst of the Brosnan cycle, trading genuine intrigue for action that shows excellent energy but lacks some of GoldenEye’s urgency. Michelle Yeoh is an interesting choice for Bond’s sidekick, as she is the first of his romantic allies who would likely wipe the floor with him in a fight. I wish their relationship would have remained platonic; the film would be better for it. Jonathan Pryce is enjoyably absurd but seems to be acting in a very different movie from his co-stars—a Roger Moore film, in fact. Add to that the fact that the premise of Bond facing off against a media mogul is a flawed one at best.

However, heaps of praise should be thrown upon David Arnold’s score, who brought a classic sound back to Bond. Arnold’s score here is one of the series’ best, building a new sound while paying homage in all the right ways to John Barry’s classic scores (most especially From Russia with Love and Goldfinger). And on the subject of music, while Sheryl Crow’s theme song leaves a lot to be desired, k.d. lang’s end credits piece, “Surrender,” is a better song (in both lyrics and singing) than a great many of the main themes. In general, when the composer and the theme song writer are in sync, both score and theme are better for it (Casino Royale is also an excellent example of this notion). I’d also laud cinematographer Robert Elswit, production designer Allan Cameron, and director Roger Spottiswoode for giving this film a far more distinctive aesthetic than many of the films in the series.

Alas, these merits aren’t enough to save the film from a quite a low ranking. Critics and fans would glom onto the conventional wisdom of this film being “heavy on action, light on story.” Bond films are often responses to their predecessors’ shortcomings, real or perceived. The next film would be no different.

Rankings

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

5. From Russia with Love

6. GoldenEye

7. Thunderball

8. The Living Daylights

9. Goldfinger

10. Dr. No

11. For Your Eyes Only

12. The Spy Who Loved Me

13. Licence to Kill

15. Octopussy

17. You Only Live Twice

18. Tomorrow Never Dies

19. Moonraker

20. Live and Let Die

21. A View to a Kill

22. Diamonds Are Forever

23. The Man with the Golden Gun

JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.