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(Credit: Eon Productions)

Film

In defence of Pierce Brosnan and 'Die Another Day'

Lee Tamahori’s bold and frequently brilliant James Bond picture Die Another Day is soon to celebrate its 20th anniversary; all these years on, the feature’s combination of triumphal homage, adulation and action is even more noticeable, especially since the series has veered into more cerebral territories since its release.

Pierce Brosnan has never looked less handsome, despite being the heaviest actor to put on the tuxedo, and he certainly steps up to the mark, both as an assassin and as a sleuth looking to seduce a potential lover. It’s his strongest turn as James Bond, and certainly his most vulnerable performance, particularly in the opening half-hour, where he abandons the orders of Her Majesty’s government to follow his instincts and basic sense of intelligence.

Of course, the film is as much a fantasy as the ludicrous You Only Live Twice, which might explain why the film has been criticised for its predilection for pantomime, despite yearning for something grander and more soulful. Personally, I’m dubious about this reading, precisely because it sets out to close out one era of the franchise while setting the scene for the Daniel Craig films to come. Watching the film in 2022, it stands as a midway point between the rapier-sharp wit of the 1970s, and the more turbo-charged frenzy of the newer pictures, embellishing Die Another Day with flavours of both eras.

We find Bond broken, bearded and beaten by a Korean government, his torture neatly filmed to the sound of Madonna’s stellar title track. Ripping up the rulebook, the film next shows 007 in a point of personal distress, as M (played with administrative poise by the understated Judi Dench) reprimands the man she once considered the best in the business. He leaves England for Cuba, where he enjoys the weather, and the cigars, the country offers him. “One of the funniest things in the movie was I had this suit” Brosnan recalled, “and it was a shrinking suit. We had to be very quick on the takes because as soon as it got wet, it started shrinking. And if you look at the movie, when Halle runs up on the parapet and I run-up, you see these Pee-Wee Herman pants.”

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This man likes nothing more than a good laugh, but there’s a darkness to the character that is bursting to jump out at the next person who portrays him. As it happens, the person turns out to be Jinx (Halle Berry) who sleeps with him, before leaving him out to dry. With no one to turn to, he trusts the efforts of Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), who leads him directly to the hands of the man who left him for dead 14 months earlier.

Deeply stylish looking, and presented with tremendous swagger, the film simultaneously feels like a continuation of the projects Brosnan has committed to the series, but it also stands on its own two idiosyncratic feet, capturing the beats of Hong Kong cinema, especially during the blinding set-piece over hoverboards. The lead assassin himself (making it one of the few times he’s been referred to as such in the 25 film series) has a weird collection of tics; his eyes move, dart and halt at irregular points, a little like Robert Powell at his most animated and Messianic.

Otherwise, he drives around in an invisible vehicle that is both deadly and defiant in its texture, pre-empting one of the most inventive car chases in the series. Given the demands of the job, Brosnan declined to direct the film. “Oh god, no,” he replied. “I`’ve watched this man (Tamahori) and others before him do it. You have to have a passion, a vision and an intellect and a desire, and a stamina of 100 men to do these films.”

Jinx is a reasonably novel figure in the world of espionage, but there’s no denying that she has as much sex appeal as her co-star, cutting through assailants like a ravenous dog hungry for attention. She still shows a certain level of naivety at differing points throughout the film, and regularly has to be rescued by the man of the hour.

But she’s no damsel either, and could have served a solo vehicle of her own, giving the character more room to flesh itself out. To the chagrin of Bond, and his exasperated bosses in England, the plot thickens the more he wades into it, and the character grows wearier of the exercise the more he delves into it. But this Bond is a man of cheerfulness and gusto, so nothing is going to bring him down.

By the time the film closes, he finds himself back in bed with Jinx, this time smothering her with diamonds. Happily escaping the horrors of the past, Bond embraces the present, keenly aware that he has earned his chance to unwind and enjoy himself. And why shouldn’t he? The audience certainly has done so throughout the film.