by Marie Phillips
A few weeks ago, I stayed up until half past twelve on a weeknight to watch a movie called Volcano, tagline: “The Coast is Toast”.
I didn’t know anything about the film aside from that it contained (a) a volcano and (b) Pierce Brosnan, as a result of which I was very excited. Alas, when the opening credits rolled, I realised that I had confused this movie with the Brosnan volcano caper Dante’s Peak, tagline: “Whatever you do, don’t look back.”. The dashing lead dispatched to save the world from thiseruption was not Brosnan but Tommy Lee Jones. So I didn’t look back – I switched the TV off and went to bed.
Lying awake, I realised that I had a problem. Or maybe a condition. Or a gift? It was this: that I would (and frequently did) watch, and relish, literally anything as long as it had Pierce Brosnan in it. I searched my memory for a Pierce Brosnan movie, any Pierce Brosnan movie, that I hadn’t enjoyed.
The universally-reviled After the Sunset, featuring Brosnan as a retired jewel thief convinced to do – yes – one last heist? “A movie utterly devoid of wit, excitement or any reason for being,” said Rolling Stone. I loved it. Die Another Day, renowned as the weakest Bond film in years, replete with idiotic invisible car and unconvincing CGI surfing, which prompted the rebooting of the entire franchise in the more credible hands of Daniel Craig? I couldn’t get enough of it.
I knew I wasn’t alone.
Will Smith, the writer, comedian and star of The Thick of It, would frequently post pictures of Pierce Brosnan on Twitter, with captions such as the following, accompanying a shot of Brosnan painting in his garden with a hat slung behind his neck: You come home to find your new gardener painting your wife in the nude. Why, I asked him, is Pierce Brosnan so brilliant? “Because he’s like a walking Rolex ad,” he said. “Because of the seriousness with which he’ll put on a cuff-link or pick up a shot glass. But also because he knows exactly how cool and ludicrous he is at the same time.”
Yes. YES. Exactly. Pierce Brosnan is everything a movie star should be: handsome, debonair, with perfect teeth and a full head of hair (“Toupee?” I say – “No way,” says Smith), able to keep his head when all around him are losing theirs and blaming it on the script / director / co-star / catering, this is a man who even managed to retain his dignity, not to mention his sex appeal, while dressed as a lobster on The Muppet Show.
In The Ghost, the ecstatically-reviewed Roman Polanski movie that is, in fact, such a dog that I’m surprised it doesn’t bark, fetch and sniff other films’ butts, Olivia Williams sits in front of a television, watching her husband, the vapid former British prime minister played by – hurrah! – Pierce Brosnan, negotiate a virulent group of protestors camped outside their American beach house. “Don’t grin,” she pleads. “Don’t grin.” He grins. He is Pierce Brosnan. He is in the lamest film of 2010. He knows it. We know it. He grins. We are all in this together, he seems to say.
Of The Ghost, Smith comments: “I’d rather have watched him typing his memoirs himself for two hours. We could have had him staring into space, looking abstractedly out of a rain-lashed window with one hand leaning on the pane, and that little jutting grin when inspiration strikes.” If only. Instead, for every minute we got of Brosnan, we had five of Ewan MacGregor wrestling with an English accent and losing. Brosnan knows when the game is up. MacGregor, sadly, does not. (Imagine how wonderfulMoulin Rouge might have been with Brosnan in the lead. You think he couldn’t have pulled off the role of the naïve young writer at 50? Pah. You have no vision.)
Brosnan doesn’t by any means only make bad movies. Everyone seems in agreement that The Matador was a terrific comedy, featuring Brosnan as a washed up bisexual assassin whose failed pick-up of Greg Kinnear in a bar leads to a deeper, life-changing friendship for them both. And I had no idea that Brosnan was in the legendary The Long Good Friday, Smith’s favourite film of his. Brosnan brought zest and fun to the role of James Bond, self-deprecating charm to The Tailor of Panama and, OK, I can’t think of another one, but I haven’t seen them all.
Still, anyone can make a good movie. It takes real talent to take a bad movie and make it good.
So to Mamma Mia, a film which only escapes being unwatchable by knowing how awful it is and reveling in it, the cinematic equivalent of drunk karaoke. Brosnan’s singing in it has been described by critics as akin to a donkey, a water buffalo, and a wounded raccoon, and by Brosnan himself as dreadful. But this film would have been insufferable if they had made the mistake of hiring actors who could – please no – actually sing. In reality, the enthusiasm of the near tone-deaf cast makes it gleeful and glorious.
“I loved Brosnan’s performance in Mamma Mia,” says Smith, “because like all the cast, he just went for it. Utter conviction. There is something both moving and hilarious about watching him belt out SOS in a black polo shirt and white linen trousers.” My own favourite moment is his doleful delivery of When All Is Said And Done: “In our lives we have walked some strange and lonely treks / Slightly worn but dignified and not too old for sex.” Quite.
But my all-time top Brosnan movie is the genuinely brilliantThe Thomas Crown Affair. It’s the one I want to believe is Pierce Brosnan’s real life.
In it, Brosnan plays the titular role of Thomas Crown, an impeccably-dressed gentleman thief who, despite being a multi-millionaire, steals priceless art for fun. In the course of the film he falls in love with a dazzling, charismatic insurance investigator – it seems plausible at the time – portrayed by Rene Russo, who he proceeds to have elaborate sex with in all kinds of exotic places (the stairs, a Caribbean island, etc.) The final sting sequence is based on the famous bowler hat paintings by Magritte and features a team of Pierce Brosnan body doubles.
The Thomas Crown Affair is clever and funny and over-the-top and sexy and glamorous and ridiculous while never being stupid. As far as I’m concerned, this film is Pierce Brosnan.
Marie Phillips is a writer. Her first book is ‘Gods Behaving Badly’ – now optioned by Ben Stiller’s TV company Red Hour Productions, to be made into a TV series. Her most recent publication is a non-fiction piece entitled ‘Change’ in the Plan International/Vintage Books anthology ‘Because I Am A Girl’, describing her harrowing visit to witness the development charity’s work in Uganda.Marie Phillips is an author.