Saturday 9 November 2013

Movie Review: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

A relatively down-to-earth James Bond adventure, For Your Eyes Only stacks the predictable stunt scenes into a rather tired sequence, but manages to find some good moments in a Cold War story of lost missile launch codes.

After dispatching an evil villain who looks a lot like Ernst Blofeld, British Secret Service agent James Bond (Roger Moore) is tasked with finding a missing and highly coveted Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC). The submarine missile launch control unit was lost when the British spy ship St Georges struck a mine and sank off the coast of Greece. The British hire Sir Timothy Havelock to help locate and secure the wreck, but Havelock and his wife are killed by Cuban hitman Hector Gonzales, working on behalf of a mysterious middleman attempting to secure the ATAC unit for the KGB.

Bond tracks down Gonzalez, but finds company in the form of Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), seeking revenge for her father's death. In Italy, Bond meets Greek businessman Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover), who suspects that his former partner and co-smuggler Milos Columbo (Chaim Topol) hired and funded Gonzalez. After resisting the charms of young figure skater Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson) and escaping from a clutch of assassination attempts led by the stone-faced Erich Kriegler (John Wyman), Bond and Melina travel to Greece for a final confrontation with the bad guys at a secluded mountaintop monastery.

After the grand, world-ending excesses of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, Bond comes back to a more intimate, old-fashioned assignment. For Your Eyes Only starts with Bond visiting the grave of his slain wife Tracy, an immediate clue that this is a more human, less technology-dependent episode. And the toned-down mood is sustained by director John Glen, helming his first Bond instalment. The requisite car chase places Bond and Melina in a clunky Citro├źn 2CV, after Bond's Lotus blows itself up, and for once there are no high-tech gizmos and gadgets to play with. With plenty of self-deprecating but low-key humour, this is a playful, grounded Bond.

However, and despite the emphasis on people rather than spectacle, too much of For Your Eyes Only plays like a succession of stunt scenes barely held together by plot. Helicopter stunts, car stunts, ski stunts, deep-diving stunts and boating stunts parade across the screen in an almost mechanical check-listing of essential, but relatively soulless, ingredients.

For Your Eyes Only does pick itself up for a satisfying climax featuring the mountain climbing drama at the impressive Greek monastery. Again abandoning the bombastic army-scale finales of recent outings, here Bond leads a small group on an impossible vertical climb to infiltrate a small hideout. Glen creates the film's best moment of tension when a guard uncovers Bond's rope and methodically breaks loose the ties securing Bond to the mountain, leaving the spy helplessly dangling from a great height.

Moore looks good for a 54 year old, and benefits from the more manageable scale of the film, but has far less screen time than his stuntmen. The supporting cast is the usual assortment of allies and enemies. Glover is devious without being menacing, while Topol offers plenty of Mediterranean spirit and energy. Carole Bouquet is almost too sophisticated to be a Bond girl, her dreamy eyes and shampoo commercial hair enough to hypnotize any secret agent, but she is a bit less than convincing as a cross-bow wielding assassin bent on revenge. In a series first, Bond throws the willing Bibi out of his bed, either because she is too young or just too easy. Sheena Easton's theme song is a welcome addition to the catalogue of Bond title songs, although it is also lyrically vapid.

For Your Eyes Only was a necessary step back from the more extravagant excesses of the series. The compact scale is not automatically better, just more rational.

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