Film review – Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002)

There is a scene two hours into Die Another Day. It takes a while to get to but it feels like the worthwhile pay off to the most patient of viewers. As Bond takes off a virtual reality headset we discover that the whole sexual fantasy had been in fact part of a simulation. Simple, effective, genuinely funny. That the Bond at the centre of the scene isn’t character James but actress Samantha portraying Miss Moneypenny is simply a stark and damning assessment of arguably the worst film in the franchise’s history.

Die Another Day, across the board, leaves a lot to be desired. The story feels messy and the dialogue makes it drag. Pierce Brosnan was never convincing as a womaniser, not in the charming way Sean Connery was that allowed the audience to both believe him and forgive him. It is a script laden with quips, come-ons and innuendo and I was left urging the women to slap him and ground the whole thing in some semblance of reality.

The technology is ridiculous even by Bond’s standards, with the inclusion of invisible Aston Martin the real calamity that lets the whole film down. The rhythm of the film makes this very much the centrepiece, utilised in the critical scenes right at the climax of the film in a pointless car chase and subsequent rescue mission. The wheels are revealed to have traction treads in them very late in the day, which would probably have saved the entire chase and… well the whole scene is very easy to get nitpicky about to be honest. I’m sure you’ll have as much fun as I did yelling at the screen.

The name’s Bad Guy. Unconvincing Bad Guy. – Image by © MGM/Corbis

The CGI just makes them all worse, though it reaches a trough when we see the destruction weapon called Icarus. This is clearly a matter of sheer terror that could cause the absolute destruction of entire countries, being that it focuses light from the sun and turns it into a giant flaming beam of light that rips through everything in its path. Director Lee Tamahori and the team at Eon Productions had 25 years to digest how George Lucas achieved this remarkable visual spectacle on a shoestring budget in 1977 for Star Wars, but yet they still managed to fail miserably in ripping it off here. You may also question why the icebergs don’t completely melt immediately when touched by the rays, or why the flaming beams stop instead of ripping through to the centre of the earth, or why nothing seems to be on fire. But hey, this is Bond. Am I right?

This also has the very worst Bond theme song of be lot, as well as the worst overall soundtrack that clumsily places modern tracks into scenes to miserable effect. Bond’s on his way to London? Throw in ‘London’s Calling’ by The Clash. That’ll do. It’s hard to escape Madonna’s terrible song too, running at the start and end of the film, sounding nothing like a Bond track, trying and failing to do something different with the well-trodden rules. In case you had managed to move on from it, Madonna pops up early in the film as a fencing teacher. She acts well but it’s a terrible scene that needlessly shows Bond struggling to keep up with someone to prove a point that he has a bit of rivalry with the film’s primary antagonist.

It is rarely so obvious that James Bond is punching above his weight. – Image by © MGM/Corbis

The whole Gustav Graves gene swap with Zao is very problematic for me. It is entirely pointless and seems superfluous to the script, borrowing heavily from Face/Off some five years after it had hit cinemas and proved that the follow-through doesn’t match the idea. Bond is a leading MI5 expert and the fact he didn’t have any suspicions at all is simply because the filmmakers made no attempt to leave any breadcrumbs for him nor the audience, making the Act 3 reveal a little hollow and a bit of a cheat. Could Graves perhaps have utilised some of the martial arts that had Bond struggling in an earlier fight sequence, given that he was actually Zao and an expert in martial arts. Instead he was portrayed as an expert in fencing, which is doable for sure but makes me begin to question the timeline for the switch.

Remarkably, there was a planned spin-off with Halle Berry reprising her role as Jinx, though this was canned following the lukewarm response to this film. Allegedly many of the plot points were reused for Casino Royale, which history has proven to be somewhat of a saviour of the franchise and a well-loved instalment for die-hard Bond fans and general film lovers. It’s a shame because Halle Berry clearly suited the role and was one of the few shining lights in a very poor film. It’s something that we’ll sadly never see now, with the franchise back on its own two feet and with no need of a spin-off to help maintain public interest.

Brosnan is, for me, not the worst Bond to have hit the silver screen. He was, by the end of his tenure, a Bond for the wrong era. As the Bourne series was launched, what cinema-goers wanted was exactly what Daniel Craig provided – roughness, realism and believability. He has proven himself over a four-film series and that is something that Brosnan, eventually, failed to do.

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The Offence (Sidney Lumet, 1972)

Sean Connery is one of the most renowned British actors of all time. He has starred in so many well regarded and successful films, including The Hunt For Red October, The Untouchables and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. He is, of course, remembered most fondly for his performance as the quintessential James Bond, starting with Dr No in 1962 and finishing with Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. He also reprised Bond in 1983 with Never Say Never Again. 

His prominent films remain prominent and he will be remembered for these great successes. That said, unless you go out of your way to seek his wider body of work, it’s quite difficult to build up a fuller idea of his talents.

Fortunately, Masters of Cinema are on hand to help us out a little, pointing us in the direction of The Offence, Sidney Lumet’s cross-section of Detective-Sergeant Johnson (Connery) and his struggle to cope with the inner demons he has as a result of the constant horrors he sees in his line of work. Released in 1972, it was one of the earliest post-Bond films he released so was one of his first chances to show the world his full gamut of talents.

The film opens with a bold slow-motion shot of policemen rushing into an interrogation room, where we find Johnson fighting off his colleagues, with the dead beaten body of Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen) lying on the floor. Evidently Johnson has killed Baxter and through a series of flashbacks we discover the chain of events that lead to this happening.

This is an excellent performance from Connery, adding weight to a character that has been carefully constructed by screenwriter John Hopkins. The story is told in a non-linear way, which is cleverly executed to ensure the reveals happen at regular intervals. Bannen’s performance kept me second-guessing throughout and ensured it wasn’t just a one-man-show. It’s a stylish and grim view of Britain in the 1970s and it hits home further by being so realistic, which I credit to director Sidney Lumet and his work with cinematographer Gerry Fisher.

It’s a film that warrants a first and indeed second viewing. The latter will undoubtedly come before long. I’ll be devouring the bountiful array of extras first.

The Offence is available on Master of Cinema dual-format Blu-ray and DVD now.