Wednesday, 1 August 2012

BlogalongaBond #20 - Die Another Day (2002)

(Here is a link to a revised version of my IMDb review of Die Another Day, May 2003)

The first 007 release following the 9/11 terrorist atrocities is - under those very circumstances - a very odd affair. For forty years and twenty episodes the eponymous British Secret Service agent had battled not only antagonistic regimes but, moreover, deluded megalomaniacs with outrageous fantasies for threatening the world.

Following the previously unimaginable scale and horror of the suicide attacks on mainland America there must have been some sort of hiatus in the scriptwriting creches of Hollywood. Quite apart from the bewildering raising of the bar of what constitutes terror in the modern world would have been the question of whether it is appropriate to fashion such circumstances in a movie.

The consequent film ducks the issue of militant Islam altogether. The script might well even have been finished in draft form before the attacks. Instead the state-sponsored terror threat of North Korea is the temporary bogeyman, exacerbated by the mastermind's decadent Western education (perhaps they got that bit right).

Most disturbing though is the severing of any tethering to reality at all. The destructive masterplan and genetic-level cosmetic surgery are pure science fiction. They infect everything else in the film, beginning with the anniversary references. New toys have to meet the fantasy and are preposterous. The modernism of the sets of the past becomes the risible fads of an unlikely future.

Finally, Bond has a new version of the specially-related ally. Halle Berry's over-acted Jinx is not CIA but NSA, raising the issue of security to an explicit level. If Die Another Day is anything, it's an insecure film - totally in possession of its past, utterly lost as to its current or future worth. Lee Tamahouri's film is, consequently, one of the most stylishly idiosyncratic, a feature-length music video trying to stand in for the irrelevance of a spy movie in a world where the intelligence services were shown to have failed. There is no greater example of the difference in the mentality here than in the gulf between Rosamund Pike's turn as a British Bond girl opposite Berry's agent. Pike plays her role straight, allowing the film's cogs to turn, for Bond's B Movie shtick to grip. Berry, who's no incompetent, cannot act properly, an American actor adrift in this fantasy-undercut-by-reality of a conceit.

There's a glimmer of light, the possibility of a film worth making, worth watching. The title sequence essays a 007, not between triumphs but treading water in a reservoir of failure. His relationship with the establishment - with M - is as delicate as it has ever been in the series and well acted as such by both Brosnan and Judi Dench. Of course, Ian Fleming's pulp-derring-do designs have no space for le CarrĂ©'s more interior espionage dramas to breathe and this is quickly resolved.

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