Tom Jolliffe wants to see David Mackenzie directing Bond 25…
The latest James Bond instalment has had a degree of uncertainty around it since Spectre hit cinemas two years ago. The target seems to be 2019, and only until recently it seems that momentum is building. In part it seems that Daniel Craig will be tied down to another. Spectre underwhelmed and Craig put in a somewhat tired performance. Speculation has been rife over his impending replacement. In any case, he’s looking like he’ll don the suit again and they can get down to the nitty gritty of picking a director.
If we believe what we’ve read recently, there’s a three man short-list (personally I think, not before long, it’d be interesting to have a female director and I’m looking at Kathryn Bigelow). The shortlist consists of Denis Villeneuve, Yann Demange and David Mackenzie. All excellent choices. Demange would be great. Villeneuve also, but do their styles quite match up to Bond? In Villeneuve’s case he certainly knows set pieces (Sicario is thrillingly tense) but I suspect he’s going to be one of the busiest directors around in the next few years doing expansive, sprawling films and frankly, his gift for Sci-Fi means he should carry on doing his thing in a genre bereft of inspirational directors right now.
For me though, David Mackenzie is the perfect choice. Without sounding like I hang a Union Jack outside my window and attend UKIP rallies (I really, really do not), one reason he fits is that he’s British. That’s not the be all and end all, but he’ll undoubtedly have grown up with Bond thoroughly ingrained in his cinematic upbringing. He’ll wholeheartedly get the character. Granted you may have said the same about Sam Mendes, who then took risks with the character in Skyfall. They paid off. It was when he resorted to formula that it went a little wrong. We’ll call that second film indulgence. Mackenzie though, will be expertly versed in the universe (unless he grew up under a rock in Scotland). I suspect Mackenzie will embrace the character, but add his own layers.
As far as his career has gone, it’s probably his last two which have marked his card as a potential Bond director (although his CV before was solid). Starred Up is a searing, powerful and gritty prison drama. It’s a genre overly saturated but Mackenzie offered something with an assured and considered hand. Then came the film which has really brought him to attention. It was something of a sleeper hit. I’m not sure there would have been quite the expectation while making it, that it would have gathered so much attention during award ceremonies. It fully warrants it, but as far as Modern Westerns go, unless they’re exceptionally made, they get overlooked. This wasn’t overlooked, and was indeed, exceptionally made. Hell Or High Water was the film of last year for me. Intense, visceral, exciting and dramatically weighty.
Mackenzie offered inspired direction to a classic story. Aided by a thoughtful script by Taylor Sheridan, the film focused predominantly on the three main characters. You had the two bank robbing brothers played by Chris Pine and the persistently underrated Ben Foster. Then you had an inspired Jeff Bridges as the aging lawman looking to head out to pasture on a high. What we had was the old, given fresh invigoration. These characters were complex and rounded. Bond despite his almost caricature persona, does have a complexity (certainly in the source material). It’s probably only since Daniel Craig took the role that we’ve really seen extra layers. Bond is an unabashed bastard of course but there are layers of darkness beneath the stoic, wise-cracking persona. Mackenzie can draw that out and get the balance right. You don’t want to show too much with Bond, because that’s not his way. Take the quiet and complex character of Toby (Pine) in Hell Or High Water. He keeps his cards close to his chest. He’s intriguing, flawed but on the side of doing the right thing (or at least what he believes is right). We see enough dimensions to this character without him giving too much away. Whereas in comparison, his brother Tanner (Foster) is a character who gives everything away. He’s an open book.
One key aspect for any Bond director is the ability to deliver good set pieces. Occasionally some directors haven’t had that ability. They’ve struggled. Take Marc Foster in Quantum Of Solace, where the action lacked rhythm. The editing didn’t help, nor the camera work, but it struck me as a director uncomfortable with action, forcibly creating visceral energy with the camera, and then in post. Occasionally you get the feeling in a JB film that the second unit took up the directors chair and said director was happy just to let them get on it, regardless of their own style suddenly switching off during the action moments. This was true of Brosnan’s last two outings. Someone like Martin Campbell (Goldeneye, Casino Royale) has his own inherent style though and an understanding of action. The style of the films are consistent throughout. I feel Mackenzie would be the same. The pulsating, blistering car chase sequences in Hell Or High Water and the gut wrenchingly tense shootouts with powerful consequences. Moments that hit hard during the action. He can do that with aplomb.
Quite what direction the next film should take as far as canon goes remains to be seen. Do they go for a scale back again like Casino Royale, or relent to the golden age of gadgets and gags? The truth is somewhere in the middle, but with a big directorial stamp. This needs a strong hand. This needs the right man, not just any “good” director because they’re good. We saw with Foster in Quantum that coming off films like Finding Neverland to James Bond was not the right bridge. Bond is inherently not his type of film. I don’t get that sense with Mackenzie. I see a fit. Tonally, stylistically and as far as dramatically. He can do complex introspection, which is required with Bond. To be fair, Foster could do that too and Quantum had some interesting character moments. He could also not be blamed for a meandering, uninspired script. It’s just keeping a grip on the spectacle and scale, which he was unable to.
We should have a final decision within a matter of weeks as the film really needs to get in prep as early as possible. Time will tell if Mackenzie (or indeed any of the short-list) gets the gig, but with safe assurance I feel he will deliver an excellent instalment if the script passes muster.