The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Pierce Brosnan
Last week, we took a look at the career of the late Robin Williams. This week's star is another legend, who just so happened to co-star as Williams' romantic adversary in one of his biggest hits, MRS. DOUBTFIRE...
Pierce Brosnan is a consistently underrated actor. Maybe it's due to the fact that his James Bond outings never quite worked (and have aged quite badly) or the fact that he's so damn good looking, but he's never gotten the respect he deserves as a classic leading man. Maybe it's that Brosnan always felt cut from the same cloth as someone like Cary Grant, with him excelling in light comedy on his TV show REMINGTON STEELE, and as a romantic lead. Sadly, when he was in his prime, those types of roles were in short supply. Between his stint on REMINGTON STEEL and his first Bond movie, Brosnan had to toil in a slew of dreadful movie-of-the-week style thrillers, with only the occasional bright spot like THE LAWNMOWER MAN or MRS. DOUBTFIRE keeping him going.
It's well-known that Brosnan was the first choice to take over for Roger Moore as Bond, before losing the lead in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS to Timothy Dalton when NBC decided to bring back REMINGTON STEELE for a couple of episodes, as they wanted to trade on what they assumed would be his new found fame. This idea backfired in a big way, but luckily, Brosnan finally got to play 007 in 1995's GOLDENEYE, with each of his subsequent Bond's breaking new ground at the box-office, and turning him into a global megastar in the process.
But, there was a catch. In the 95-2002 period, the Bond films were struggling to keep up with modern action trends, and while Brosnan often spoke about wanting to take some risks with the character, he was often shoehorned into formulaic films, which ranged from entertaining (TOMORROW NEVER DIES) to absolutely atrocious (DIE ANOTHER DAY). Of his run as Bond, only GOLDENEYE stands the test of time, and it's a shame Brosnan never got the tough Bond vehicle he deserved. It's worth noting that his non-Bond 1999 vehicule, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, felt more classically Bondian than his real Bonds ever did.
However, Brosnan is not one to rest on his laurels. Since the end of his Bond-run, Brosnan's reestablished himself as a character actor, turning in arguably his best performance ever in THE MATADOR, and some fine turns in movies like THE GREATEST, SALVATION BOULEVARD and more. This week, Brosnan returns to spydom again for THE NOVEMBER MAN. While I wasn't keen on the film itself (my review), Brosnan is as charismatic as ever, and it's always good to see him back on the big screen.
For me, Brosnan's work in THE MATADOR was a revelation. I always knew he could act, but I had no idea he had a performance like this in him. As Julian, the over-the-hill hitman, Brosnan takes his suave 007-image and flushes it down the toilet, playing it in the most un-Bond-like fashion imaginable, and it works brilliantly. From the scene where he walks through a hotel lobby in a speedo and cowboy boots swilling whisky while 'The Jam” plays on the soundtrack, to his drunken meltdown opposite Greg Kinnear in a Mexico City-bar, Brosnan seems to relish the part. It's my all-time favorite performance of his, and I honestly think he was Oscar-worthy that year. I guess lines like “I look like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning, after the navy's left town,” or “margaritas always taste better in Mexico. Margaritas and cock,' didn't sit well with the academy. Screw 'em.
A lot of Bond fans point to THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH as Brosnan's best Bond-outing. For awhile I agreed with them. In '99 it seemed like a relatively gritty 007 yarn, but the years have not been kind. For one thing, Robert Carlyle's Renard is one of the worst Bond-villains ever. For another, Brosnan's performance as Bond feels a little listless. And then there's Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones, and the line “I thought Christmas only came once a year.” If it weren't for Sophie Marceau and the opening boat chase, I'd consider it unwatchable nowadays. It's still better than DIE ANOTHER DAY though.
There are two really underrated Pierce Brosnan vehicles. One is LIVE WIRE. Made in-between his REMINGTON STEELE and Bond-years, LIVE WIRE is one of the dozens of cable-thrillers Brosnan made to pay the bills, but of all of them, LIVE WIRE ain't half bad. It's stylishly directed by Christian Duguay, and Brosnan makes for a dynamic hero as a bomb squad cop who discovers a group of terrorists are carrying out political assassinations with a liquid explosive they hide in water, turning their targets into walking bombs. Is it a dumb premise? Yes, but it has some really cools scenes, such as the climax when Brosnan goes all MacGuyver on the bad guys (led by Ben Cross) and starts improvising deadly weapons with regular household appliances. It's a cool little movie.
The other is John Boorman's THE TAILOR OF PANAMA, based on the novel by John LeCarré. This was an early attempt by Brosnan to subvert his Bond-image by playing a sort of “dark Bond” where he has all of the same attributes, but none of the courage or morality. He plays a spy who blackmails a Panamanian tailor (played by Geoffrey Rush) into becoming his asset, and helping him scam his employers for more cash, while screwing anyone who gets in his way. His spy character is a misogynist, a racist, and an all-around bastard, and it was a pretty brave role for Brosnan to take at the height of his fame. Too bad hardly anyone saw it.
While I was tempted to throw in the lobby scene from THE MATADOR, I have to go with Brosnan's iconic introduction to the world of James Bond in GOLDENEYE. The opening, with the iconic bungee-jump, and smooth-bathroom introduction (“beg your pardon, forgot to knock”) is classic Bond. It's too bad the rest of his Bond vehicles couldn't live up to it.
Brosnan's planning on turning THE NOVEMBER MAN into a franchise (review here). Whether or not it actually happens remains to be seen, but even if it doesn't he's got a lot of movies in the pipeline. I expect Brosnan to churn out plenty of interesting films, but I must admit, I'd love to see him tackle Bond one last time, even if it seems unlikely.