1989 was an incredible summer for movies. Among them, we got INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE which went on to be one of the top grossing movies of the year. I’ll be honest when I say that at age 6, I was not entirely familiar with the series. My parents had RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK on VHS which they would not let me see and I had only seen TEMPLE OF DOOM on Channel 11 here in NYC and it scared the crap out of me. But this third installment felt different when I would see the trailers because the main focus was on Indy and his father played by the legendary Sean Connery. Up until that time, I knew nothing about Sean. He seemed like just an elderly man running around with his archaeologist son and nagging him along the way. I did not see CRUSADE until it hit home video and no surprise, I enjoyed the hell out of it. But I still knew nothing about the old man.
Then around 1991, the animated series JAMES BOND JR. hit my TV screen on weekday mornings. It’s seen today as a low point in the overall James Bond franchise; however, I got caught up in this kid with all the gadgets, the car, and the girls and found myself getting familiar with the movies in turn. I began to pay more attention when Bond moves were advertised on TV and most of them highlighted Sean Connery’s seven appearances in the role. As the years went on, I would hear everyone from my dad to my uncle’s debate who the best Bond actor was and 99% of the time, it was Sean Connery.
So, what was it that made Connery so special to me? There had been so many leading men before him who defined what it meant to be a man and how to look cool in movies. Connery had a certain edge of confidence that made him dangerous as Bond. He could subdue an enemy without hesitation. Physically match bad guys bigger than him. Charm women in an assertive manner. He could wear any type of suit and suddenly all the guys flocked to their nearest clothing stores. And no matter how silly the situation be it flying a jet pack or a mini-chopper, Connery can make it look cool. I can’t totally overlook some aspects to the character that were of the time that are no longer considered acceptable in today’s society. Specifically, Bond’s treatment of women during the Connery era. But those aspects of the films should not take away the enjoyment of watching them. Connery set the high standard for every actor who came after and not even Daniel Craig comes close enough to reach that bar.
Throughout the 1990s, as I became more familiar with Connery’s work, I began to check out his latest movies mostly through video and on cable: THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, FAMILY BUSINESS, MEDICINE MAN, JUST CAUSE, and RISING SUN. On the whole, Connery became more badass with age. But what was so great about his star power at the time was how giving he was as an actor to share the screen with so many top talents of the day: Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, etc.
Now of all the movies he did in this era, two stand out the most to me. The first was his Oscar-winning performance in THE UNTOUCHABLES as Chicago patrolman Jimmy Malone opposite Kevin Costner’s Elliott Ness. Anytime he was on screen, you can see how every actor around Connery had to elevate their game. He took David Mamet’s words on the page and simply made them into gold. My two favorite scenes in the film are the church scene when he and Ness make their pact to bring down Al Capone and the scene after the shootout on the Canadian Border when Malone threatens to execute a witness by shooting him through a dead henchman’s mouth. The former scene inspired me to write a similar church scene in my 2nd movie, DISHONORABLE VENDETTA. In many ways, Connery was the saving grace of THE UNTOUCHABLES. Not saying the movie doesn’t work without him. But he elevates it in a manner that puts to light the need for justice in such a corrupt society.
The second stand-out movie was the only Connery film I saw in theaters (with exception to his cameo in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES). That film was Michael Bay’s THE ROCK where Connery played an ex-British intelligence agent who famously escaped Alcatraz and gets used by the FBI to break back in to fight domestic terrorists. Hollywood was already making the transition to more filmmakers who got their start in the MTV generation. Their styles leaned more towards younger, hotter actors than the veterans of the business. At age 65, Connery proved he can be just as fit and badass as all the other actors 30 years younger than him. His chemistry with Nicholas Cage is so perfect with Connery being the one who’s seen it all (literally) while Cage is the neurotic chemical expert with no field training whatsoever. The additional dialogue added by the writers of TIME BANDITS created some of the most memorable lines that I’ve ever heard in any Connery movie. Many consider THE ROCK as Connery’s true last James Bond appearance because of the nature of his secret agent past. I saw this film twice in theaters and I usually stop to watch it when it’s on cable. I also recommend finding the outtakes on YouTube.
As I got older and my tastes in film evolved, I took more chances on Connery’s filmography where he would show more diversity as an actor: THE HILL, THE OFFENCE, THE TERRORISTS, A BRIDGE TOO FAR, OUTLAND, WRONG IS RIGHT, HIGHLANDER, THE PRESIDIO, and THE NAME OF THE ROSE to name a few. He never phoned in any of these performances. If anything, he could elevate movies that didn’t have the best direction. There’s still plenty of films I still need to see one day such as MARNIE, THE ANDERSON TAPES, ROBIN AND MARIAN, and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING.
The film that I consider his last truly strong performance was in Gus Van Sant’s FINDING FORESTER. You talk about an inspirational picture. Here’s Connery playing a J.D. Salinger-type reclusive writer who mentors a gifted black kid from the Bronx. After watching this movie, I found myself more inspired to write in a way that changed my whole process: Write with heart on draft one. Then with your head on the rewrite. It has its cliches at times given that Sant’s previous movie was the Oscar-winning GOOD WILL HUNTING. But I still love this film and I love the fact that Connery became a real-life mentor to his co-star Rob Brown. Sometimes, you can see a little touch of Connery’s essence in the performances of Brown’s later movies.
Now the legendary actor who had just turned 90 last August in no longer with us. It saddens me to see him go. I’m sadder that his career had to end with a flop like THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and passing up hits like THE MATRIX and THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogies. Putting that aside, however, I smile at the fact that he proved you can age gracefully on screen and not lose your charisma. Think about the fact that a man with a receding hairline and a grey beard in his 50s and 60s was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. Think about how popular he was at the box office after THE UNTOUCHABLES revived his career. Lastly, think about every actor who was inspired by him to get into movies. Sean Connery did it all and more. He’s living proof that you can never say never again.