Give Craig a ‘10’ for 007 performance in ‘Skyfall’

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Give Craig a ‘10’ for 007 performance in ‘Skyfall’

NEW YORK - Looking at the cast and crew of “Skyfall,’’ you could easily confuse the assembled talent for a prestige costume drama. Director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins and actors Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes might just as easily be mounting a Shakespeare adaptation.

But “Skyfall’’ is, of course, a James Bond film. It’s the 23rd installment in a blockbuster franchise marking its 50th anniversary with only slightly less fanfare than the Queen’s Jubilee. “Skyfall’’ is a touch more high-minded than those previous 22 films, but it’s also arguably the best-crafted movie in Bond history.

Those involved in the 007 empire credit the higher trajectory for Bond to one man: Daniel Craig.

“Daniel was like, ‘Everyone said yes! Look at this incredible cast!’?’’ says Mendes. “I’m like, ‘Mate, it’s because of you.’?’’

His third film as 007, “Skyfall’’ is Craig’s most emphatic statement yet on how he’ll define his stewardship of the beloved British spy. What’s clearest is that Craig has taken full ownership of Bond, not only filling out a tux, but molding the entire production.

“That was an ambition of mine,’’ says Craig. “They give us a lot of money to make these films. If we can spend the money in the right way and on the right people, then we’re going to create something that’s very special.’’

The result is the best-reviewed Bond film yet, one that’s already made a whopping $287 million in its first 10 days of international release. “Skyfall’’ is the culmination of the Daniel Craig years, a chapter in Bond history that’s proving to be a resounding success.

Craig’s first Bond film, 2006’s “Casino Royale,’’ was a visceral introduction to his version of 007. Less successful was 2008’s “Quantum of Solace,’’ which was marred by script problems partly caused by the writer’s strike. The film’s heavy somberness disappointed many and fueled the correction in tone on “Skyfall.’’

After the postmodern deconstruction of “Quantum,’’ “Skyfall’’ puts Bond back together, restoring many familiar elements, with certain twists. Ben Whishaw inherits the role of Q, Naomie Harris settles in as Moneypenny and Fiennes comes aboard as the new head of MI6. Bardem plays a flamboyant, effete former MI6 agent whose cyber destruction is motivated by a past with M, the role Judi Dench has memorably inhabited for seven films.

Overall, “Skyfall’’ is set in a more realistic world - particularly situated in London - where MI6’s activities are answerable to government and where the threat of terrorism has firmly displaced cold war fears as the dominant concern.

It was Craig who at a party asked Mendes - better known for his stage direction and dramas like “American Beauty’’ and “Revolutionary Road’’ than action movies - if he wanted to direct. The two had previously worked together on 2002’s “Road to Perdition.’’

“It mattered that it came from him,’’ says Mendes. “I don’t think I would have done it without Dan. It’s much easier going to Javier or Ralph knowing they’re already into the franchise because of Daniel. He’s made it cool in a different way.’’

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