The top 10 best Pierce Brosnan films
Duncan salutes the mighty Pierce Brosnan, with a countdown of the one-time James Bond's best ten films...
Over the years here at Den Of Geek, I’ve written countless times about the nature of hero worship. It’s a subject that utterly fascinates me, especially in the context of action movies. The reason I’m telling you this now is because in the rather lengthy article that follows, there’s a distinctly personal stance on the films that I hold to be Pierce Brosnan’s best as, for me, he’s one of the greatest screen heroes of all time. It’s fair to say that it’s taken years for me to finish this list - not because of the length, but because of how important the films are to me. I’m more than aware of how strange that sounds, but hopefully by the end of the article this introduction will make more sense.
In short, Brosnan managed to embody the best of all the James Bonds, using Connery’s brutality, Moore’s charm and Dalton’s coolness to make arguably the finest rendition of the super spy to date. During his time as Bond, Brosnan had some of the most emotional and downright incredible moments, many of which are listed below, but when GoldenEye burst on the screen it was the first time I remember feeling like there was finally a modern Bond that connected on a personal and relevant level, while remaining faithful to Bond’s rich history.
A love of Bond aside, the choices below reflect a diverse career that saw him take multiple chances at the height of his career, with some fine results. The most curious thing that presented itself when looking at Brosnan’s career as a whole were the themes that seem to have remained constant in most of his work.
He has a fine track record for starring in literary adaptations, with Ian Fleming, John Le Carré, Alistair MacLean, Stephen King and Frederick Forsythe all making contributions. Then there’s the drinking, smoking, spying and shagging – at one point I even considered making the screencaps just out of those shots – though it should also be noted that most of his leading ladies have all been age appropriate too, a theme especially relevant in The Thomas Crown Affair. That said, most of his onscreen relationships with women have remained difficult to say the least, with everything from good old fashioned divorce, to death by volcanic rock causing upset for his characters.
This being a DOG list, there will obviously be a sway towards his more geek oriented roles, though as with any top ten I usually refrain from putting more than one movie from a franchise on the list, although having said that…
10. Tomorrow Never Dies
“You made your bed.”
To hell with it, let’s make an exception for once and apply the playground rules of ‘my bat, my ball.’ I love Tomorrow Never Dies, so it would be totally remiss of me not to mention it in slightly more detail, especially as it never quite seems to have received the same level of praise as GoldenEye. For the record, Tomorrow Never Dies would rank near the top of this list, but since it shouldn’t really be here, in at number ten it goes. Plus it also knocks out After The Sunset, which means I don’t have to confess that there’s a Brett Ratner film I like.
The strengths of Tomorrow Never Dies are manifold. It marked the debut of David Arnold’s terrific run as the Bond composer, and for my money the Tomorrow Never Dies soundtrack is the most exciting, especially as it reintroduced the classic Bond theme that many had missed in Eric Serra’s experimental score for GoldenEye. The sublime mix of techno with the classically orchestral added to its individuality, with Arnold even tapping The Propellerheads for a contribution to the track Backseat Driver, as he’d been working with them for his album Shaken And Stirred, which covered and reworked the classic Bond opening songs. Frustratingly, though, Mr Arnold had also concocted a belter of an opener with k.d. lang entitled Surrender, but was overruled in favour of the more ‘populist’ choice of Sheryl Crow by the producers.
Tomorrow Never Dies also contains what I hold to be the best of Brosnan’s James Bond performances, as he seems to have utterly relaxed into the role after his superb, but high pressure debut in GoldenEye. There’s a sense of complete ease to his portrayal, like Bond had become a second skin, and the story allows for a much more powerful emotional core with a rare connection to a female character in Teri Hatcher’s Paris Carver - adding an element of tragic revenge gave a greater motivation to Bond’s often basic ‘For Queen, country and a good shag’ trajectory. The “You made your bed” seduction scene still holds up as one of the franchises most believably passionate too, as well as being the most bitey.
Talking of strong scenes, the action set pieces are uniformly superb throughout, even if the final shootout feels a little dry compared to the vast spectacle that’s preceded it, with two moments in particular ranking among the greatest – the backseat driver chase is thrilling, but its Brosnan’s joyous smile and silent performance that makes it work, especially when the tyres re-inflate. Silence is a theme that’s also employed to comic effect during the music room interrogation, which sees larger and more preposterous impromptu weapons deployed in the background, with the final weighing of the ashtray a perfect coup de grace. Cracking little moments, but ones that contribute towards an entirely rounded and solid Bond film.
9. Live Wire
After the cruel Remington Steele contract stopped Pierce from taking the Bond role before Dalton, the years between saw him make several Bond-esque action movies of which Live Wire is one of the best. When I say best, of course mean in the context of alcohol as Live Wire is prime beer-and-movies fodder that is so ludicrously over the top that it’s impossible not to love it – I cherished it so much upon finding it at my local rental shop in Coventry that I convinced the owner to sell me his copy and then bought a second one several years later, just in case.
The film centres on Brosnan’s bomb disposal expert (who strangely enough has a troubled relationship with his wife) and the sinister threat he faces from a series of bizarre explosions that are leaving no trace of a mechanism. So far, so CSI, but the script's genius is in making human beings the bombs. Oh yes, there’s explodey chemicals being ingested in water that mean the victims suffer from a severe case of pink eye before violently combusting – four stars for the concept alone, surely?
If that hasn’t sold you, then there’s a scene involving Pierce punching a clown, then pushing him in a wheelchair into a tent where he blows up - something you don’t see every day. There’s also some fine dressing gown adorning, a beardless Ron Silver, bathtub sexing and a lot of shouting. A warning, though: I had to get my DVD imported from China, such are its rare and wondrous delights.
8. The Lawnmower Man
“Man may be able to evolve a thousand-fold through this technology, but the rush must be tempered with wisdom.”
It would appear that the omnipotent powers of Jobe, the Lawnmower Man himself, saw fit to make two of the writers here at Den Of Geek re-watch the titular film within about a week of each other, as no sooner had I scribbled out some crayon notes about the magnificent hair-off between Brosnan and Jeff Fahey, than Ryan Lambie had put finger to keyboard and written this piece looking at 10 remarkable things about the movie.
Ryan’s take on the ten craziest elements in The Lawnmower Man is, for me, all you’ll ever need to read on the film, as it affectionately singles out what an insane and entertaining film it is, though be sure to avoid the article if graphic images of bunny love are too much for you. There’s little to be added, though I have always found it strange that despite being in my teens at the time of the cinema release, I somehow missed it and only caught it some years later post GoldenEye.
Considering the hype and publicity that The Lawnmower Man received at the time, combined with my video game addiction and the fact that VR was the big, exciting ‘future of technology’ focus, I can’t imagine how it slipped past. Still, Brosnan was ahead of the curve as when GoldenEye was released three years later in 1995, that same year saw similarly themed movies with Strange Days and Virtuosity warning us of the dangers of virtual worlds.
For those who don’t know, Lawnmower Man also saw a heavily extended director’s cut release, which my VHS cover proudly states has ‘an extra 38 minutes of previously unreleased footage’. My recollections of the extra footage are hazy, though there is additional VR monkey footage, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a bonus. Full details of the director’s cut can be found here though.
Curiously the VHS cover also features three press quotes that all discuss the ‘mind blowing effects’ rather than the film itself, my favourite of which is “Dazzling special effects, even better than Terminator 2” courtesy of The Sun, though I’m sure J-Cam didn’t lose any sleep over that rather wild claim.
Still, The Lawnmower Man does feature some fine performances, especially from Jeff Fahey who seemed set for big time stardom at the time that unfortunately never quite happened for him. It was a good chance for Pierce to shine though, especially with his devotion to keeping a straight face in the presence of lunacy. The film also ties nicely into his recurring theme for playing drinking, smoking men with women troubles, it could even be argued that since his work is governmental that there’s a tie to espionage as well. They really don’t make them like The Lawnmower Man anymore.
7. Seraphim Falls
“He teaches my fingers to fight and my hands to war.”
Happening on the existence of Seraphim Falls one day, while browsing for any missing Brosnan films in my collection, was a glorious moment. My love for Liam Neeson has been well documented on Den Of Geek over the years, so imagine the delight at finding a film which not only promised to star two of my biggest cinematic heroes, but that it would all happen in that most rare and desirable genre – the western.
However, I tempered any expectations with the usual straight to video mentality which consists of an initial ‘Wow this film looks amazing and has a great cast, I’m sure I’ll appreciate this film even if no one else does’ and is then swiftly followed by a crushing ‘Oh dear, to the recycler with you.’ (I’m looking at you, The Contract). But Seraphim Falls proved to an absolute gem of a find, so if you’ve yet to give the film a watch, I really can’t recommend it enough - something I’ll be saying a lot over the course of this article.
The centre of the film revolves around a cat and mouse dynamic, with Neeson, posse in tow, hell-bent on inflicting his own brutal justice (which he does so love doing) on the sympathetically hounded Brosnan. The chase itself takes place over a variety of hostile and contrasting landscapes and isn’t afraid to show, in graphic detail, what it took to survive in such circumstances and has more than a few wince inducing moments and violent outbursts. In fact watching it again, I realised it would make a fine double bill with First Blood, as the two share a lot in common – falling through trees, a reliance on a mean looking knife and the long lasting scars of war being just a few.
There’s a lot to love in Seraphim Falls, with its Spartan dialogue, fine supporting cast of character actors who always make for fine miscreants (the ever untrustworthy Xander Berkeley and Michael Wincott to name two), beautiful cinematography and punchy DTS soundtrack, but the film is driven by the two leads. Both Neeson and Brosnan are able to carry audience sympathy at the drop of a hat and their casting is key in carrying the films’ statement on the corruption and futility of war, making for an immaculate two hander.
6. The Tailor Of Panama
“Oooh look at those tits. Oh yum, yum!”
If The Matador marked the end of Brosnan’s time as James Bond with a two fingered salute, then The Tailor of Panama was a much braver role to take in between Bond movies, as it simultaneously cashed in on the spy’s success, while shocking audiences with Pierce’s repugnant performance as Andrew Osnard, a character truly bereft of sympathy and best described as a truly magnificent bastard.
As the film starts we learn of Osnard’s various indiscretions that have led to his banishment to Panama, where he immediately sets about blackmailing the titular tailor, played with the delightfully supressed mania that Geoffrey Rush so excels at. The film that follows is part black comedy, part political statement and all mischief – there’s even a cheeky Sean Connery reference in the first ten minutes.
I remember at the time of the film's release there were more than a few jaws dropped by hearing the seemingly wholesome Brosnan’s utterances of such lines as “Don’t be a c**t, Harry,” though I suspect those people weren’t so familiar with his earlier, more villainous roles, merely his turn as Bond. There’s also a raw sexuality running throughout, with Osnard sharing Bond’s affinity for aggressive seduction, with no sense of responsibility or respect for the women he encounters – his comments about Leonor Varela’s character Marta’s disfigurement being especially grim.
Directed by the rather great John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance and Excalibur to name a few that come highly recommended) there’s also a slight feel of the Coen Brothers at times, with surreal additions to the narrative that see Rush’s tailor talking to his deceased work colleague as a moral conscience and there’s also the matter of his later turn in Intolerable Cruelty that suggests the Coen’s saw him in Tailor and realised he was a good fit for their style. Elsewhere there’s the larger than life Brendan Gleeson as a Latin activist turned alcoholic and a very young Daniel Radcliffe.
As a little aside, it’s also based on the book by John le Carré and the author ranked it in his own top four best novels, alongside Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, so that should be recommendation enough.