An exploration of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond: An actor who forged his own path
As an actor, he was no Timothy Dalton, never inserting himself in the victims he silenced so mercilessly. As a sportsman, he was no Daniel Craig, his pencil-thin waist disappearing in the shadows of the golden, beach bound torsos that strode through Casino Royale. As a Bond, he was nothing unique, wearing the ghosts, suits and quips Sir Sean and Roger left behind to salvage. And as an Irishman, he couldn’t boast himself the first non-British actor to don the Walther PPK—Australian model George Lazenby had beaten him to it a quarter of a century earlier.
Then there are the films, an unenviable bunch if ever a Bond should pick them. That his tenure should end with an eviction seemed small mercy when his films should feature a tsunami surf scene, a Christmas sex joke and a dalliance with the world’s scandal sheets. Of his four entries, only Goldeneye merits a re-watch. Matched against Goldfinger’s kitsch decadence and Licence To Kill‘s cold-blooded portraitures, Goldeneye is a second rate entry.
And yet Pierce Brosnan was still a very good Bond. For all the posterities, passages and fads that have changed over the last two decades, Brosnan was still the right man for the job. He was no Dalton, but the Welsh born’s lawless, broken performance pleased few outside of the die-hard Ian Fleming purists. Time has proven kinder to his films, yet matched against the testosterone fused antics Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dalton’s entries were met with apathy, disinterest and, occasional, disgust among movie audiences. Schwarzenegger jumped on the Bond bandwagon in the nineties, True Lies awash in sixties and seventies clothes wear. Brosnan could fit beautifully into these pinstripes, the buttons wrapped around him even more decoratively than they did Connery. And caught as he often was in flagrante delicto, Brosnan’s coital engagements with Famke Jannsen, Sophie Marceau and Halle Berry had an animalism to them that you’d never see with Saint Roger. For many of us Irish children, it was a man from Meath that stood proudly at the end of the video shops, his poster tilted with well earned confidence.
Matched against Lazenby and Craig, Brosnan’s blithe body looked more susceptible to tackling martinis over punches. That his films favoured spectacle over verisimilitude excused him from this comparison, but it was his wish (and, secretly, ours) that he would star in a grittier, dirtier Bond that owed more to character reflection than satellite intervention. Before engineering a volcanic coup d’etat in the Japanese hillsides, Connery’s escapades were smaller, more intimate affairs that saw the Scottish man dealing with one or more of Spectre‘s more accomplished villains. Then there was Moore, whose fifth entry detached itself from its predecessors by opening on a mournful, aged agent, cognisant of the woman whose grave he visits. The four film Craig set shows a palette that dealt with the character’s alcoholism nakedly (Quantum of Solace) and flippantly (Spectre). In the decade Craig’s held the tux, his ventures have been a mixture of valedictorian, temperate and modest entries. That Brosnan should have been denied these textures is the fault of the series, not the actor.
Instead, let’s remember him for the moment he did get to channel the menacing parts so memorably. About halfway through Tomorrow Never Dies, Brosnan’s detached Bon walks back to his hotel room. Lying face front of her televised eulogy, Teri Hatcher’s Paris is dead. Masked with a gun, Brosnan looks up at her killer. Sorrow fills his eyes, but not his voice. Instead, he grabs the weapon from his assailant and locks a bullet in their skull. Turning to the woman whose life he indirectly ended, he kisses her neck solemnly. The kiss of a killer? The farewell of a lover? An amicable goodbye? It doesn’t matter. There’s more substance here in a four-minute encounter than Brosnan found over four whole films. Good on you commander!