Eon's Cary Fukunaga coup
"It's a huge honor, mainly. I've been a fan obviously, since I was a little kid. It's been around since longer than I've been alive. I’m just really excited to carry the banner on. It's great".
— Cary Fukunaga, speaking to Den of Geek
When Danny Boyle quit Bond 25 one month ago, there was a sense of impending gloom hanging over Bond 25. For many fans, Boyle was an inspired choice, a kenetic and left-field director who could bring a fresh and anarchic Indie sensibility to the venerable franchise.
In brief interviews, he promised a radical story idea, one he and frequent writing collaborator, John Hodge, had supposedly pitched to Broccoli, Wilson and Craig without ever expecting them to accept. That the trio did accept it (in the process, shelving their own gestating script idea being written by loyal Bond scribes Purvis and Wade) indicated a willingness by all involved to take some dramatic story-telling risks, and promised a memorable send-off for Craig after the overly formulaic SPECTRE.
To then have Boyle quit, barely four months from the start of principal photography, was a real shock. Such a public walking-away by a director, though common to other Hollywood franchises, had never happened before with the Bond series.
A dark cloud descended over the film, one that many fans already considered too long overdue, and subsequent rumours of Boyle and Eon clashing over casting decisions and story ideas (everything from rumoured #MeToo plotlines, to killing Bond off) only heightened the sense of a film production in disarray.
After all, for many Bond fans the memory of the Sony hack and SPECRTRE's troubled script leaks lingered painfully in the memory. And with the clock ticking away to an imminent production start to meet an October 2019 release date, were we going to suffer another Quantum of Solace: a film rushed into production without a completed script? The omens were not looking good...
It was clear that to reinstall a sense of confidence in this film, Eon had to announce someone very special as a replacement director. For a moment, it looked possible that they would announce the first female director of a Bond film when British director C.J. Clarkson was rumoured to be in contention. Then news came that Bart Layton, director of the recently released American Animals, was in discussions with Eon.
"I am in discussions about it. There's nothing more concrete. It's very flattering to be put in the mix for something like that, and of course we've all grown up watching Bond with our dads and stuff like that. Well, a lot of us have. I probably have got bitten by the bug of action film making and all of the magic that comes with it".
— Bart Layton, speaking to TalkRadio
Another highly-tipped contender re-emerged: Yann Demange. Demange had, allegedly, been on the shortlist of potential directors prior to Boyle's hiring, and his second feature film, White Boy Rick, has just been released in the US (cracking the Top 5 at the box-office).
Then, two days ago, Eon pulled the rug out from under everyone's feet with their surprise announcement via the official Bond twitter account:
Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig announced today that #Bond25 will begin filming at Pinewood Studios on 4 March 2019 under the helm of director, Cary Joji Fukunaga with a worldwide release date of 14 February 2020 (1/2) pic.twitter.com/Oyzt826sXd— James Bond (@007) September 20, 2018
"We are delighted to be working with Cary. His versatility and innovation make him an excellent choice for our next James Bond adventure," said Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. (2/2)— James Bond (@007) September 20, 2018
Cary Joji Fukunaga. No one expected that. He wasn't on anyone's movie-gossip radar. And he's quite the coup for Eon.
Fukunaga has quickly made a name for himself as one of the most exciting American directors of his generation, along with the likes of Damien Chazelle, Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins; filmmakers who have emerged from Independent Cinema and/or television to achieve significant mainstream success and acclaim. His hiring also gives a lie to the long-held notion (among some fans and commentators) that Eon wouldn't appoint an American director.
Cary Fukunaga's credits include his acclaimed film debut, Sin Nombre (2009), an elegant adaptation of Jane Eyre (2011) and the brutal Netflix-produced Beasts of No Nation (2015). All stylish films that saw Fukunaga work confidently with high-calibre actors such as Idris Elba, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, and Sally Hawkins. And this week saw the release of his latest project, Maniac, a trippy psycho-drama he produced and directed for Netflix, starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill.
But it's perhaps Fukunaga's stylish directing of the first season of True Detective that has brought him the most acclaim (and an Emmy). A brooding, dark, character-driven series, it took the hackneyed detectives-hunt-a-serial-killer genre and gave it deep, truly nihilistic layers, and in the process elicited career-best performances from Matthew McConauhey and Woody Harrelson. It is a stunning piece of television, beautifully written and shot (Fukunaga often works as his own cinematographer) and featured some truly incredible scene-staging.
If Fukunaga is allowed to bring his own creative vision, handling of character and actors (he is also an adept writer), and his visual style to the world of Bond then we could be in for a truly special film. Watching his work, particularly on True Detective, it's not hard to imagine he'll collaborate well with the dramatically-inclined Craig.
He is exactly the kind of director Barbora Broccoli and Michael G Wilson needed to hire: an extremely talented, exciting, Indie auteur (director/writer/cinematographer) who has a proven track record over a variety of genres; the kind of hot-shot, on-the-cusp director that other major film franchises must have eyed-up too (imagine their envy!).
That it's Bond who's landed Fukunaga just shows how potent the series still is. And it's his on-the-rise status that means, hopefully, Fukunaga will treat this opportunity with appropriate respect and as a springboard to even greater films. If he gets this right and balances the wants and expectations of a franchise and it's fans with his own sensibilities, it will be a terrific film to have on his resume and afford him even more stature to make his films.
And that's probably the greatest difference between his and Danny Boyle's hiring who, if we're all honest with ourselves, doesn't really need to make a Bond film (or any big franchise flick) this far into his esteemed career. For Fukunaga, this is a golden (gun) opportunity.
But there is one word of caution. We've already seen one director quit Bond 25 over "creative differences", and Fukunaga is known to be a fastidious film-maker. He walked away from the recent IT adaptation, having developed it as writer/director, due to a similar creative impasse with producers. If Eon and MGM are smart, they should afford Fukanaga enough creative leeway to keep him happy, especially with that ticking-clock; they simply cannot afford to have another director walk away from this late in pre-production.
That said, all current indications are good. Fukunaga must have been privy to the in-development script (allegedly a return to the Purvis and Wade draft) before agreeing to sign on. So he must have liked what he'd read. And, smartest of all, Eon and MGM have realised that a little more time is needed for Fukunaga to shape Bond 25 into his film, hence the slight delay to the film's release — to Valentine's Day, 2020.
Only three months later than originally intended, it also means that Bond has a clear-run at the box-office, free from the over-crowded Christmas/summer schedule. And with Craig proving to be a cross-demographic hit, the idea of celebrating the most-romantic-day-of-the-year in Bond's company will appeal to many. More intriguingly, does it hint at, perhaps, a more romantic storyline for 007...?
Ian is a life-long film fan, dark fiction writer, electronic musician, and digital artist.