Richard Cohen: Jealous of Daniel Craig’s Bond — strength and intelligence 51

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen isn’t a fan of Daniel Craig’s muscular Bond. He’d prefer a more bookish version of 007. Since Skyfall quotes Tennyson, it’s only fitting to remind the author: “How dull it is to pause, to make an end, to rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!” (Image: YouTube.)

In 2010 I brought up the sad truth that there are a lot of men who wish Alan Alda and George Clooney could have a baby that looked like Matt Damon, but with beta-male genes empowered by gamma radiation. They want to see The Hulk, but instead of getting really angry they want him to cross his legs and purse his lips with incredible strength. The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen’s latest piece, ‘James Bond and the new sex appeal,’ demonstrates quite nicely that he is one of those men:

This Bond ripples with muscles. Craig is 44, but neither gravity nor age has done its evil work on him. Nothing about him looks natural, relaxed — a man in the prime of his life and enjoying it. Instead, I see a man chasing youth on a treadmill, performing sets and reps, a clean and press, a weighted knee raise, an incline pushup and, finally, something called an incline pec fly (don’t ask). I take these terms from the Daniel Craig Workout, which you can do, too, if your agent and publicist so insist. Otherwise, I recommend a book. …

“Skyfall” is a lot of fun — don’t get me wrong — but it still says something about our culture that, in the autumn of my years, I do not like. To appreciate what I mean, contrast this new Bond to Roger O. Thornhill, the charmingly hapless advertising man played by Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.” Like Bond, Thornhill pulls off some amazing physical feats — his mad frantic escape from the crop duster, the traverse of Mount Rushmore — and like Bond he wears an expensive suit. Unlike Bond, though, when he takes it off we do not see some marbleized man, an ersatz creation of some trainer, but a fit man, effortlessly athletic and just as effortlessly sophisticated. Of course, he knows his martinis, but he also knows how to send out a suit for swift hotel cleaning. He is a man of the world. …

Every rippling muscle is a book not read, a movie not seen or a conversation not held. That’s why Sean Connery was my kind of Bond. He was 53 when he made his last Bond film, “Never Say Never Again.” Women loved him because he was sophisticated and he could handle a maitre d’ as well as a commie assassin. Western civilization was saved not on account of his pecs but on account of his cleverness and experience.

I know the movie market skews young and kids want action, and I take it as a good thing that Daniel Craig’s Bond is older, world weary, and, in sports lingo, has slowed a step. But he still triumphs physically, not cleverly.

Speak for yourself, Richard. Some of us make time to do our reps and read books. We discipline our bodies and our minds. Daniel Craig’s 007 is superior because he brings strength and intelligence to the table — a deadly combination that strikes fear into wannabe George Clooneys because a “marbleized man” reminds them of very real soldiers (Navy SEALs, perhaps?) who can kill you with wits, fists, or marksmanship.

Richard Cohen may read a lot of books, but apparently many of them haven’t been historical in nature or he’d realize that Western Civilization owes plenty to men with “pecs.” And he claims to watch a lot of movies, but he seems to have fallen asleep during Skyfall because Bond is, in fact, very clever.

Who has to be more clever — the Bond who depends on exploding pens, or the Bond who must ultimately save the day with a hunting rifle and a knife? Who is more clever — the Bond who depends on ejector seats in his car, or the Bond who depends on his ability to recall — in a split second — the name of a decades-old metro stop in order to decrypt a digital map of subterranean London?

The insecurity masquerading as confidence displayed by men like Cohen is summed up perfectly in a conversation that 007 has with Q:

Q: Well, I’ll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.
James Bond: Oh, so why do you need me?
Q: Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.
James Bond: Or not pulled. It’s hard to know which in your pajamas, Q.

Mr. Cohen pines for the Bonds of yore because it allows him to pretend he, in a pair of designer Gucci frames, could play the part. Cohen would love to believe that it’s possible to regularly dine out at Komi and Minibar, drink Macallan Scotch, and still manage to save the day. “Clever” men with “first class temperaments” cling to the belief that it is their brainpower that can save Western Civilization (a “reset” with Russia here, an endorsement of the Muslim Brotherhood there), because deep down they know that the men who live in the shadows, pulling triggers, must work to keep their peak physical performance if they want to stay alive in the field.

I highly suggest seeing Skyfall if you haven’t already. It’s a great movie. I just wish M quoted more of Tennyson’s Ulysses; Mr. Cohen might have understood Craig’s 007 better if she had:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life …

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Here’s a photo of yours truly to demonstrate that I practice what I preach.

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51 comments

    • It is quite humorous when writers say something that gets them ridiculed and they resort to the “it’s satire” defense. I haven’t run across a classic case in awhile now. I’ll have to be on the lookout!

  1. It’s impossible to believe 99 percent of anything written by anyone anymore.
    Or to believe any politician who took the Norquist pledge and is now recanting.
    It’s all starting to sound like superficial BS. Every word of it.

    I’m going to take it all as satire, as no matter what anyone says, the criminals running the country will do as they darn well please.

    “If you can’t blind ‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with BS”.

    • Eh. I’ve never been a fan of pledges — unless it’s to the Constitution. When it comes to a generic pledge or his constituents, politician x will always dump the pledge.

      Most of the GOP is filled with loser stooges these days. I’m not sure what the answer is, but we need to find a way to elect more Paul Ryans or America is in deep trouble.

  2. Skyfall was the movie that actually made me finally accept Craig as Bond. It’s a wonderful film and I agree with every point you’ve made here. I think people pine for the Bonds of old out of nostalgia.

    Very interesting and well written piece. Congrats on FP!

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Lily. I really appreciate it. My deep dark secret is that when Craig was first announced, I wasn’t a happy camper. He has won me over. I admit, I was wrong. He expanded my idea of what “Bond” could be.

      • I feel the same way. Exactly. I always saw Brosnan as “my” Bond (a generational thing, I think). While “Casino Royale” was a good film, I saw Craig’s Bond as being too emotional and, as covered in your piece, too physical. Skyfall won me over and, as you said, has expanded my idea of what Bond can be as well.

  3. In the middle of the first paragraph of your first Cohen quote I thought, “This sounds like a description of a warrior.” Thanks for the insight, this was great! :-)

  4. I am a Bond fan born just a couple of years after this “madness” (term of endearment) began and can claim to have seen each movie at least two dozen times across the years, but I find Craig to be the anti-Bond. To date I have only seen about half of Casino Royale and nothing else of his turn as 007. I left Casino Royale early because the violence was too much for my young teen son, but I have not tried too hard to finish the movie due to Mr. Craig.

    Sure, sean Connery had a physicality, but he also had a disarming grace that made him my favorite to play the role. I felt like Roger Moore toyed with the persona, but probably fit the cultural time period his movies were offered better. Timothy Dalton’s redeeming quality was his ability to deliver the snarky lines with believably. Ah, if Remington Steele had not stolen some of Pierce Brosnan’s younger years we could have had a decade or more of his wittiness.

    The box office does not seem to reflect a general disregard for Mr. Craig, which I suppose is best because the role is bigger than any one actor. AL this to say i agree with you about Craig’s turn as the super spy.

  5. Mr. Cohen’s shrink, were he to read the original article or your blog, could once again reflect on the well-known fact that when people talk about movies, they mostly talk about themselves. “In the autumn of his years” (is it sane to refer to your age in this way for a man with self-respect?) Mr Cohen is in a rather obvious conflict with the view of himself. Most people are in this conflict, but few are brave enough to write movie reviews which get them naked for all to see. So, instead of punishing Mr Cohen for taking himself too seriously, I could praise him for his bravery )

  6. I love Daniel Craig as Bond. Easy on the eyes (as a woman, I have to say I like my Bond with nice abs, thankyouverymuch), an ass-kicker AND smart. Congrats to you on getting Freshly Pressed! :-)

  7. You hit the nail on the head. I was halfway through typing a big ol’ comment, but honestly, I’d just be rehashing what you already covered so well…. Very nice post.

  8. To be honest, I get tired of hearing how only the “old Bonds” are any good. Honestly, do people truly believe that the world cannot evolve? The simple fact is that the world has changed and therefore these old roles have changed to suit. Where Connery made an outstanding Bond during a time when diplomacy and finesse were high, Craig makes a perfect Bond in our current age of “shoot to kill, when it is right, and do it with class or grit, your choice”.

    I do have to say though, ANYONE is a better choice than Brosnan ;)

    • You’re killing me! I loved Pierce. :) I look at Roger Moore (was he in his late 50′s playing Bond at one point?) and cringe. I also don’t think Timothy Dalton’s Bond stands up too well…

      Thanks for the read. Good point about Bond changing with the cultural climate of the times.

      • Oh I definitely agree regarding Moore. I’m honestly not sure what exactly annoys me about Brosnan. Perhaps it’s that darn mocking smile of his. Though honestly I think it’s the entire air about him as Bond that struck me wrong. Then again, it also doesn’t help that I’d watched Mrs. Doubtfire not long before. :D

  9. I read, I watch movies, I do yoga and I like the “Craig” Bond. I never liked Sean Connery, never having watched his Bond growing up, and in the 21st century his “run along, now, we are going to do some man talk” lines fall on very reluctant ears. I loved Skyfall. I agree, Craig’s Bond is strong and clever. How nice that I do not rely on Richard Cohen’s reviews to decid which movies to watch.

  10. I thought the dialogue in Skyfall was razor sharp and deeply intuitive for a Bond movie. I have to admit I’ve loved Daniel Craig from his first moment as Bond onscreen. As a woman, he is incredibly powerful, sexy and can turn a phrase with the best of ‘em. I think they chose well, and agree with your assessment wholeheartedly. Congrats on the FP!

  11. Bond, as it is now, is the bond that we all always wanted, but never got. The realistic effects, blood, injuries, things that just didn’t seem to happen to all the other bonds. This bond can die, but refuses to do so and that’s what makes it so interesting to watch.

    • Nice point, Cal. Having a hero who can be fatally injured keeps the drama alive. There are many reasons why the last Indiana Jones move stunk, but one of them is because they guy survived a nuclear blast at ground zero. After a character survives that, there’s no reason to wonder if he’ll come out alive in the end.

      I’ll take Daniel Craig’s Bond any day over most of the others.

  12. A diehard Connery fan I have to say Daniel Craigs bond is very much like the books charactor. Skyfall was a very fun movie. As to paid movie critiques, well very few are worth paying much attention to. I used Roger Ebert as a guide for many years. If he hated a movie I was sure to see it. If he loved it, I knew it was boring and had a political message.

  13. Thanks for the great post. “Some of us make time to do our reps and read books”. You have no idea how true that is; some of us even make time to do our reps WHILE reading books. Well, where “reps” equal physical work and “read” equals listening to audiobooks.

    However, your link between working out and the line in Ulysess “[t]o rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!” raises a curious point. Is working out “to shine in use”? Exercising to ensure you are in peak-Bond physical condition does little of use. I do not think Ulysses would have been any more contented had he worked out all day…

    • Hi Kit. Thanks for the comment. I referenced “to rust unburnish’d” in response, I think, to this line from Cohen: “Every rippling muscle is a book not read, a movie not seen or a conversation not held.” The author seems to imply that it’s all just a waste of time, and he neglects to mention how much we can learn about ourselves as individuals (and human nature more broadly speaking) through exercise.

      http://douglasernstblog.com/2012/05/06/the-runner-king/

      http://douglasernstblog.com/2012/04/14/why-we-run/

      I don’t exercise to be in Bond shape. There are many reasons to work out, and one of them is because it can be a humbling experience. That is something that is incredibly useful. At no point did I ever imply that people should work out “all day.” I do assert that a regular exercise routine can be very beneficial to the mind, body and soul.

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