Cameron Frew looks back over the career of Pierce Brosnan…
“So when you’re near me, darling can’t you hear me, S.O.S.” If you were to ask any movie fan in the 90s if they thought they’d hear Pierce Brosnan, aka James Bond utter those iconic ABBA words on film, they’d probably laugh in your face. But over 20 years later, the versatile Irishman is famed for more than having a licence to kill. In the past three years he’s ferried Owen Wilson out of a coup-ridden foreign country, went up against none other than Jackie Chan in Netflix’s The Foreigner, and is due returning to the small screen for a second season of oil-driven, acclaimed western The Son. He may never quite escape the Bond facade – but Brosnan is always a worthwhile performer. Saying that, look deeper into his filmography and there is many a stinker to be found; some pre-Bond hilarious beauties, some post-Bond disasters that clearly bet on the charisma of its famous leading star. So, with the dust around Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! starting to settle, let’s look at his best, and worst, work.
The Big Hitters
In 1993, before he tasted the sweet delight of a shaken martini (not stirred, mind), Brosnan joined the ensemble of family-favourite, generational classic Mrs Doubtfire. The film is, obviously, famed more so for the late, marvellous Robin Williams – a transformative performance that accentuated all his finest comic abilities, from his seamless impersonations to his devoted attitude to the coolest nanny around. But every talent needs a sparring partner, and the Irish fox fit the bill. He played the love interest of Williams’ ex-wife in the movie, Sally Fields. In another version of this story, Brosnan would have no-doubt been portrayed as a sort of nihilistic, sleazy villain, irredeemable against the heart of his foe. But, thankfully, the writing team of Randi Singer and Leslie Dixon opted not to fall for this trope. Brosnan is neither the hero nor the villain of the piece; he is life’s reminder that there is someone for everyone, and it’s okay if you’re not that someone. He plays it with a deft charm that would soon become his trademark, while indulging in some quality slapstick (he referred to the iconic pool scene as a “drive by fruiting”). This in turn made Brosnan a bit of a household name – handy, considering how much his life was about to change.
Rewind back to 1987. A new Bond has been instated – Timothy Dalton, starring in The Living Daylights. Brosnan was in fact offered the role, but due to his commitments on forgotten soap Remington Steele, he missed his chance. Although this was a blessing in disguise, as Dalton’s stint as 007 only gave way to two outings, neither of which were overly well received (Licence to Kill is actually a great film in retrospect). So come 1995, MGM needed a new Bond – someone fresh, someone handsome, someone who could inject a bit of bold blood into the franchise. After a couple of appearances in films you’ve probably never heard of (Death Train, Don’t Talk To Strangers), it was clear Brosnan was the one. His first performance as James Bond still remains his best, in GoldenEye.
Martin Campbell was in the director’s chair (also the man behind another exemplary entry in the franchise, 2006’s Casino Royale), and what a thrilling feast it is. Suave, lethal, and importantly, funny, Brosnan was the perfect agent. His raw charisma was a hit with critics and audiences, clambering for his return soon after his debut. Then came Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997, a slightly weaker but more self-aware action film that upped the cheekiness of Brosnan (before taking it too far in the abysmal The World Is Not Enough) while balancing a really great tale of villainy – a media megalomaniac who crafts atrocities to get the headlines. Nothing like fake news, eh?
Fast-forward to 2008. Picture the scene; mums and grannies all over the world are flocking to cinemas, ABBA is blaring out in many a pub, you can hear the gentle humming of Waterloo in the streets. This was when Mamma Mia hit cinemas. It was a box office smash upon release, but it has only grown in popularity over the years, a seemingly never-ending phenomenon. And who gets to give the ol’ pipes a try? Pierce Brosnan. Critics and many fans chastised him for his ‘lacklustre’ singing abilities, but those people missed the point. Did they not listen to the lyrics of ‘Dancing Queen’? “You can dance, you can jive”; they sound like very inclusive words. So if you’re in the anti-Brosnan camp, you’ve missed the point. He’s having the time of his life, and that’s all that matters.
Two volcano movies came out in 1997, and only one of them stars Pierce Brosnan, so you can guess which is the superior. Dante’s Peak (released two months before the lesser but admirably stupid Volcano, starring Tommy Lee Jones) is still a thrill ride today, if you give yourself over to it. There are some furiously cheesy moments throughout, many of which involve Brosnan’s questionable accent, which switches from his native patois to a sort of American dialect. Watch and probably laugh as he audibly mourns the gruesome death of his wife, in a scene that’s so unnatural it’s as if someone is manipulating his vocal chords. But that’s all part of the fun. Director Roger Donaldson (who helmed great British heist flick The Bank Job) knew how to work the reigning chaos around the darting, captivating eyes of his star lead, channeling a Bond-esque energy into his heroics alongside a fan-favourite co-star, Linda Hamilton.
In 1999, he had two big releases – the next Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough, and a remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. Strangely enough, the latter proved to be the far more enjoyable compared to the paltry, sleezy former (seriously, count the sexual innuendos). Alongside co-star Rene Russo, the pair had a more insatiable, fiery chemistry than their predecessors, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. For whatever reason though, the film isn’t spoken about much at all. A shame really, considering it feels so much more polished and sophisticatedly crafted, whilst managing to seem just a little trashy in the process, with its extreme affinity for showing off Brosnan’s wealth throughout. He’s the delectable trickster at the core of the film’s caper (which, by the way, is so much more interesting than the original’s bank job), carrying out his heists to the toe-tapping, head-nodding tune of Nina Simone’s eternal Sinnerman.
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