From Russia with Love
From Russia With Love is a bigger, messier movie with a lot more going on, but it maintains the likable, easy-going tone and wide-eyed sense of adventure of Dr. No. It manages to hit the sweet spot between Bond’s modest debut and the grandiose vehicles that came after.
The plot, cast and budget have all grown, but James Bond remains the star. More so than perhaps any other Bond movie (at least until Daniel Craig takes over), this is a movie about Bond, not simply a movie with him in it. He’s given more room to grow, make decisions and mistakes. Sean Connery is still defining who Bond is, not coasting on audiences’ familiarity with him. It’s probably his best performance as Bond.
The James Bond of From Russia With Love is intriguing and enigmatic, as any good spy should be. The whole venture is kicked off because SPECTRE can’t stand him, and they base their elaborate plan on the (accurate, it turns out) assumption that he can’t resist a beautiful blonde.
Yet Bond, to the movie’s credit, is not perfect. He’s still capable of making mistakes, mis-judging people, and even showing fear. Contrary to what many of the ‘70s and ‘80s Bond film writers believe, this makes him a far more interesting hero, and one whose victories are more deeply felt.
As suggested by the title, From Russia With Love has a more overt romantic angle. The story begins — and is eventually resolved by — Bond’s capacity for love. With women, Bond is still curious and tentative, and even somewhat aware of other’s needs. He has not yet been reduced to a creature enslaved by lust.
The plot is mysterious and intricate in the best possible way. SPECTRE spells their plan out early on, so we know which major beats to look for, but the minor details are left out, and there are plenty of twists and hiccups along the way. We know, of course, that James Bond will come out on top, but how exactly everything is going to play out is a mystery until the final minutes.
Blessed with a larger budget, thanks to the surprise success of Dr. No, From Russia With Love ups the ante in terms of spectacle. This time we’re treated to an explosive helicopter crash, an even more explosive boat chase, and several elaborate shoot-outs. All are excellently executed, but the movie (and director Terence Young’s skill) often shines brighter in the quieter moments, like a brutal, close-quarters punch-out between Bond and top henchman Red Grant that still ranks among the series’ best and most intense.
From Russia With Love is a lot like Dr. No — from the opening scenes of Bond in M’s office, to the closing shot of Bond and a beautiful girl relaxing in a boat after a job well done — but it still feels more like a vibrant re-living than a stale regurgitation. From Russia With Love delicately, but deliberately, takes the first step in transforming the contents of a surprise hit into a versatile formula.
VerdictA confident step forward for the series in terms of storytelling and action that also deepens the James Bond mythology.