Today is the birthday of Pierce Brosnan, he is 58. Happy Birthday, Mr Brosnan.
This article is a revised version of a piece I first published two years ago. Mr Brosnan has been busy in the last two years, most notably making ”The Ghost Writer” , a kind of thriller that flirts with a fantasy version of the British ex-prime minister Tony Blair.
Like many men, I am waiting for “The Thomas Crown Affair 2″ , the long-promised followup to his wonderful 1999 caper movie. Unfortunately the news on this is not good, as the director has left the project and there is apparently, dissension over the script. Still we can hope.
Here is the first part of the article, which of course starts with Pierce Brosnan’s rise to fame as James Bond .
Part 2, which deals with some of Mr Brosnan’s greatest m0vies, is here
Part 3, which deals with his later movies and has links to all the movies referenced, is here
The first time I saw Pierce Brosnan was back in 1995. “Goldeneye” had just been released and everybody wanted to know who the new Bond was. Pierce Brosnan was the guest on a UK TV programme “TGI Friday”. The host introduced him, and immediately played a clip from Goldeneye. The scene was set in a sauna, with Bond indulging in some repartee and rough sex-play with Famke Janssen’s scantily-clad Russian assassin, whose speciality was crushing the life out of her victims with her super-strong thighs. The scene was sloppily salacious and frankly very old Bond, too reminiscent of Roger Moore being beaten up by gimmicky women villains. The clip ended, and the TV host implied that Brosnan had seen Famke Janssen’s breasts in the scene. He laughed and said “Well you know how it is, you’re a boy, you look.” This with a slight shrug, he changed the subject.
It was the reply that intrigued me. Honest, respectful to his co-star, dryly funny, but somehow private. He clearly was not going to go into ego-playtime even when offered the opportunity. This actor made me want to see Goldeneye. But in the 10 years since I am not sure I have found out that much more about Pierce Brosnan. He talks about being transplanted, at the age of 10, from rural Ireland to urban London and being an outsider. Like many men who are outsiders, he is emotionally reticent and, for a movie star, shy about himself. All movie stars say they are shy private people, but I think this is mostly bullshit. I think Pierce Brosnan is the real deal.
And since Goldeneye I have been a Brosnan movie-watcher. I am going to use the occasion of Mr Brosnan’s birthday to talk about his movies. Because if he will not talk about himself, his movies do say a lot about him.
A word about this article. It is long. When I started it I had not thought about the body of work that Pierce Brosnan has produced since 1995. However I wanted to really look at his movies and that meant writing about a lot of them (thirteen to be exact). It was not a difficult task, for even at the outset I could see that he was a versatile actor and that his movies span a number of genres. I hope that you find the article good enough to read to the end and that you enjoy my thoughts on an actor who I think is very interesting and very different.
Goldeneye was a huge success, and for me it was because Brosnan gave Bond back his arrogance, his certainty, his surety. Brosnan was a fit young actor and he took over the movie, every move fast, sure and confident. The arrogance that Connery had was back, along with a dash of cruelty for its own sake. Brosnan also gave Bond a brio, a joyful lust for smashing things up that made Goldeneye such a thrill-ride. Brosnan moved Bond back to being physical and manly.
There was one other key factor. Brosnan played Bond as ambivalent. The Bond dry humour was now mordant, a far cry from the patrician “I say old boy!” of Roger Moore. It was no longer clear whether the dry humour was funny or just plain cynical. His humour was now as much triumphalism as wit. Brosnan played Bond as slightly bitter but still a loyal assassin with a job to do. Bond was now as implacable as the Terminator, with Brosnan playing him as a man whose superbly-controlled anger will take him past any enemy.
If Connery was the iron-fisted and slick personification of post-war British power and Roger Moore was the British upper-class at war, Brosnan was the spy for the uncertain Nineties. Sworn to duty but too sophisticated to be unaware of the contradictions of his role, he reconciles it all in a manly way, by taking action. Brosnan gives us a glimpse of the inner workings of Bond and after that we could not be complacent, could not relax, because we had to be alert for more surprises from the cynical spy. Goldeneye was a marvellously perceptive and assured performance, especially from a first-time Bond.
Tomorrow Never Dies
Brosnan made Bond his own in Tomorrow Never Dies. Several small things made for a very assured performance. Brosnan made Bond more arrogant, more assured. He did this by making Bond still, a centre of power. He did it by taking away all unnecessary physical action and by making Bond imperturbable in the face of a situation. Once again it was about uncertainty. Roger Moore would raise an eyebrow and make a comment to show he got it, and the comment showed that he had preserved his Brit sang-froid, and was unmoved. Brosnan subtly narrows his eyes to show he’s got it and has a poker-play expression which can change instantly to amusement or outright fury. There was this sense that mayhem could kick off at any second.
Brosnan’s physical presentation of Bond changed. Bond became more deft, balanced, his actions quick and careful. There was a now a kind of master Samurai sense about him, that he could see four moves ahead and was simply anticipating the battle.
And Brosnan shows us how a secret agent loves,…very carefully. His encounter with his lost love Paris Carver (Terri Hatcher) is notable for the tenderness, the soft look, the gentle touch, that are absent from his more casual couplings. And then Brosnan takes Bond to a new place. When Bond comes across Paris’ murdered body, he opens the man up, in a way we have never seen before. It is not just the loss, but the meaninglessness of the death, the finality, the loss of future. This is a small scene but its key to Brosnan’s Bond. Brosnan makes Bond mourn like a real man mourns and it makes the audience feel closer to him.
And of course, this unleashes in Bond the anger necessary to destroy the villain Elliott Carver. Brosnan plays Bond like a man who has an internal switch, which, once activated, he will stop at nothing.
Changing the game….
I believe that the next movie, though a commercial failure, paradoxically showed what a great actor Pierce Brosnan is.
Moving from mystery to eco-statement, Grey Owl was Richard Attenborough’s bio-pic of the life of an Objibway Indian/Scottish half-breed fur trapper who became one of the first champions of the native environment (in this case the Canadian wilderness) and a huge celebrity in England and Canada. The mystery lay in the fact that Grey Owl was in fact an Englishman who had been adopted into the Ojibway tribe, and is eventually exposed as such.
Brosnan gives us a gruff, mostly humourless man, who is ill at ease in the white world. Once again there is a kind of stillness, a zen in which Brosnan cloaks the character. Brosnan builds a man of utter simplicity, who undertakes each task with total concentration. This is a wise man, who judges the world in his rare utterances. Where Bond had arrogance, Grey Owl has power, and native wisdom. Brosnan does power very well and his Grey Owl is an imposing figure.
Once again it is the small moments in Brosnan’s performance, gem-like scenes where he lets us into the inner character. There is a wonderful moment early on in the film, where Brosnan is acting as a guide for a young woman he does not particularly like (but will eventually fall in love with) and takes her to his adopted Ojibway tribe. The chief starts promoting Grey Owl as a husband, to his evident discomfort. The small tics, the nervous glances that give Brosnan away, are beautifully done.
There is a deliberate rhythm to Brosnan’s Archie Grey Owl. When he is in his place and his power he is fluid, deliberate and spare, with no wasted movement. However, as his secret starts to overwhelm him, his actions begin to stutter, his guilty pauses get longer, sentences that start out calmly explode into anger. Brosnan’s performance grows and grows, and he shows us the immensity of his guilt growing with it. The tension in the man becomes tangible and heart-wrenching as Brosnan increasingly bares the two halves of Grey Owl’s soul. The progression from (supposedly) simple woodsman to troubled eco-celebrity is marked by Brosnan progressively showing the depths of this man’s emotional pain.
This is a masterful performance, Brosnan is the film, because the subtle complexity of his performance outclasses every other aspect of this film.
And back to Bond..
The World is Not Enough
This is a great Bond movie, mythic, manly and with a sense of real danger. This one works so well because it taps into one of Brosnan’s great strengths, the ability to play men who are both powerful and troubled. In The World is Not Enough, Bond is compromised by his failure to save the life of a British industrialist (and friend of M). He is further compromised by M’s use of him, to spy on a woman who may be endangered by Bond’s actions. Once again, Brosnan shows us a man who lives on the edge, showing us the little signs of a man who is getting closer and closer to being a merciless killer, but never overplaying those emotions.
What is so great about this movie is that Brosnan gets the tone perfectly right. This is a very real menace (stolen Russian nukes to be detonated in a major city) and Brosnan’s Bond has never been harder or more deadly. But this is also Bond, and Brosnan is truly funny here, the jokes and quips are perfectly timed, delivered in that slightly menacing tone. The sight and situation gags are done perfectly and Brosnan is as slick as hell in doing them. Here Brosnan gives us the Bond he had always promised us, the mature, cosmopolitan sensualist, a man in great physical shape, who happens to be a killer.
Masterpieces and changes
For me Brosnan really hit his stride with The World is Not Enough and I think this emboldened him to become even more creative. His next movie was a risky undertaking and turned out to be a masterpiece
Copyright © 2011 What Makes a Man. All Rights Reserved