When I was at university, I wasn’t afraid of voicing occasionally unpopular opinions, mainly because I’d rarely thought them through first. These opinions ranged from “I can do that death slide if I get top this pint up with whisky” (which caused me to have some form of hallucinatory episode before running four miles away) and “red wine is shit because it all tastes the same” (during a discussion on why my landlord and his good friend had joined the university wine society). Said landlord, who took me in on a month’s trial and kept me on after I nearly burned his house down three weeks in with a cooking oil fire, and who was consequently one of the finest and most upstanding men I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, was also of the view that Timothy Dalton was the best James Bond. So I wasn’t the only one had unpopular opinions. Oh wait, I thought it was Roger Moore.
You may have already read my Movie Memories blog on The Spy Who Loved Me, and in particular the childhood highlight that occurred about an hour and ten minutes in. But The Spy Who Loved Me was for me the quintessential Bond film when I was a child, and watching it again in the context of the other nine Bonds to come before it, I was relieved to see that it still stands up pretty well. No Bond since Goldfinger has had such a ready supply of iconic moments, from the Union Jack parachuting ski jump to the giant man with metal gnashers, and with some of Ken Adam’s best work on the series (of his five Oscar nominations, this was his only one for a Bond film), TSWLM doesn’t skimp on spectacle but also does much to further the archetypes of the series. Nonetheless, there are still a few fresh concepts that the tenth Bond outing manages to add to the already burgeoning formula.
WARNING: while my other articles and reviews mentioning Inception have remained spoiler free, this article contains massive spoilers, the size of buildings folding back on themselves. You have been warned.
It’s been two weeks now since we were all incepted. It appears the idea didn’t take for a few people, but by and large there’s a lot of love for this movie, especially evidenced by the fact that it’s currently third on the IMDb Top 250 Movies. No matter what you think of that chart or its methods, it shows that of the first 100,000 people to see and rate the movie, pretty much 2/3 of them thought it was a 10/10 movie on however they judge their scales.
Maybe because of this, or maybe because people felt they were being incepted with the idea that they should love this movie with all the pre-release hype. Part of that hype was generated because of the poor quality, apart from the odd gem such as Toy Story 3, of the competition in the summer movie market (and if anything, next summer is even worse).
The Review: There feels something particular about being British. If you’ve ever seen the British episodes of shows like Friends or The Simpsons, you’ll have a pretty good idea what other people think we’re all about; all Union Jacks and stiff upper lips. But to me, there’s always felt something more of the Monty Python about being British; there’s an eccentricity that bubbles under in our culture, and sometimes that strangeness gets let off the leash and allowed to explore, which is what Nick Whitfield has done in this expansion of an earlier short film.
There’s always a risk in taking a short film idea and stretching it up to an hour and half, but thankfully there’s enough here to give a solid three act narrative so that the plot can flow and breathe. Ed Gaughan and Andrew Buckley are the unconventional memory trippers, going about their business with a complete and total investment in what they’re doing. Keeping them on track is the only big name in the cast – Jason Isaacs gets his moustache on again for The Colonel, and although on the surface he is most like the British archetype I alluded to earlier, all stiff-lipped reserve and gruffness, he isn’t afraid to take the character to the same strange places as the rest of the cast.
The process which Bennett and Davis (Buckley and Gaughan) go through to undertake their investigations is constructed of fine details, so that you never really see the whole; that’s probably for the best, as what they’re doing only makes sense within the confines of its own, equally bizarre, rules. There’s a whole vocabulary to the film in terms of style, action and language which only really makes sense as the movie progresses. But it’s the fine details that are the most enjoyable and that really resonate. Using this attention to detail, Skeletons starts as an out and out comedy, but then works in more elements of drama along the way – it’s a fine balance, but one that Whitfield manages very well both as writer and director. He’s helped by a cast that has some real standouts – as well as the investigators, Tuppence Middleton does wonders with a silent role as the daughter of the family at the plot’s core.
Overall, this resolutely odd, deliberately unconventional movie manages to have a heart in among its strangeness. The only slight reservation is that, while the plot comes to a conclusion which is both narratively and emotionally satisfying, the last few scenes linger slightly longer than they could have done, so maybe if Whitfield gets the bigger budget that his talent deserves, it will allow for a little more time in the editing room, although this is proof positive of what you can achieve with limited resources. The score is also slightly overstated in places, but these are small quibbles and shouldn’t detract from the whole experience. For a true British original, look no further.
Why see it at the cinema: Partly to reassure yourself that you’re not completely mad and other people are finding this funny too, but mainly because without your support, movies like this will stop getting released, then they’ll stop getting made. That day will be a bad one if and when it comes – so don’t let it happen.
The Score: 8/10