James Bond Retrospective #12 - For Your Eyes Only
Welcome to the twelfth instalment of Sticky Trigger Entertainment's James Bond 007 Retrospective. We'll be bringing you a new retrospective review each week, covering every Bond film from the official canon, leading up the Australian release of Skyfall in November. Jump into the Citroen and get ready to climb into the next adventure of Bond... James Bond.
Title: For Your Eyes Only
Director: John Glen
Writer: Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum (based on the stories by Ian Fleming)
Starring: Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Julian Glover
After the increasingly outlandish set-ups for Bond films led to the horrible, horrible Moonraker, the producers decided to strip things back a bit for the latest film, in an attempt to get things back on track and to have something new ready in the event Roger Moore decided not to return to the franchise. For Your Eyes Only is chalk and cheese with its predecessors, but the grounded focus, the emphasis on a proper (albeit campy) espionage plot and a willingness to embrace the darker aspects of James Bond made for the best film of Moore's tenure.
'They're not wrinkles, baby. They're love lines.'
When a British spy ship goes down off the coast of Albania and an archaeologist tasked with locating the wreck is murdered by a hitman, James Bond is dispatched to find out who is competing with the British to locate the wreck and its valuable prize: the ATAC decoder, which would allow a foreign power to locate or command British ships. Along the way, he runs across Melina Havelock (Bouquet), the archaeologist's revenge-driven daughter, and competing Greek businessmen Kristatos (Glover) and Colombo (Topol).
It's a novel story within the Bond franchise because it eschews grand schemes and complex gadgets in favour of a hero who lives by his wits and skills, and grounded villains who rely on subterfuge and cunning. While the big twist with the villain is easier for a contemporary audience to see coming (see Glover's brilliant turns in Doctor Who, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the more recent Game of Thrones), it's still great to see that Bond isn't some superhero of intellect and physical prowess, that he can be outwitted or outmatched. It just makes his victories all the more impressive when they come, because they feel earned. And the victories themselves are all gritty and fun at the same time: the ski chase is heart-stopping with brilliant choreography, the chase between Bond and Melina's Citroen and the baddies' sedans is tense thanks to the obvious sense of being "out-horsepowered", the mountain climb is one of the few moments in the whole franchise where it seems like Bond might actually be about to die, and all the physical fights feel very bloody and scrappy.
High-powered crossbow and a mosquito net. Gotta love a girl who comes prepared.
It's amazing to see such a dangerous, Connery-esque performance out of the campy Roger Moore, who is still really showing his age, but he makes this new direction work. If anything, his continuing style of the charm offensive makes it all the more dramatic when he drops the one-liners and sarcastic smiles and speaks earnestly to the other characters. His moments with Melina, warning her of the dangers of revenge, carry a thematic weight because it seems like Bond is dropping the act. Similarly, his brutal execution of Locque is easily the darkest moment of Moore's tenure and one of the most gripping. With barely a word of dialogue, Moore communicates the kind of moral toll that a licence to kill may take on a man's soul, whilst also saying that this is personal and for once, he's going to enjoy it. It's his best performance by a long shot and his most interesting spin on the character of James Bond; sadly, this film is the only one where he gets to let it loose.
There's a phenomenal supporting cast behind Moore. Glover and Topol play their characters with equal parts charm and ambiguity so that until the last third of the film, one is forgiven for not being sure who the true villain is. By that point, both actors then get to ham it up a little more as the ruthless villain and jolly but revenge-driven ally, and it brings a different kind of dynamic to the film to have characters other than Bond be the ones with very personal motivations. Similarly, Carole Bouquet makes for a great Bond girl: gorgeous, and with a character and arc all her own, very much Bond's equal in passion and drive to get the villain. Plus, being handy with a crossbow doesn't hurt.
'James Bond thinks he's the only one who can look like a dapper mofo, huh?'
Easily the best film of Moore's tenure, For Your Eyes Only gets back to the pulpy espionage action of films like From Russia With Love. Gadgets are no match for wits, violence is a very present force, the central McGuffin is something worth fighting over and the villains are some of the most entertaining we've seen in years. Throw in Moore's best performance with a dark, hard edge to his character, and the result is an absolutely fantastic, unmissable entry in the series.
Highlight: It's a tie between Bond kicking a car off a cliff and Bond climbing up to the monastery.
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