The Best Documentary You'll See This Year
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you’ll be on the edge of your seat within the first five minutes.
By Libby Coleman
Chances are that if you were born after 1985, you’ve never heard of George Lazenby. But after seeing the new movie about him, he might be the only person you want to talk about.
Becoming Bond is a film that hits three beats: George Lazenby was an Australian car mechanic. He had never acted in his life, but he became the second James Bond. He was offered a six-movie deal with a $1 million bonus, which he turned down to become himself again. You’ll have to see the movie (available on Hulu on May 20) to fully learn how that happened, and in a fashion bigger than Big Fish.
There’s sex, a beautiful love interest and a seductive villainess, charm and a whole lot of sneaking around undetected.
Quite simply, the hilarious, dramatic, sexy Becoming Bond feels more like a narrative feature than a documentary. Director Josh Greenbaum edited down four marathon sessions of Errol Morris–style interviews with Lazenby, now 77, into a neat arc befitting a true Bond. There’s sex, a beautiful love interest and a seductive villainess, charm and a whole lot of sneaking around undetected. The interview, which covers the span of Lazenby’s life, with his most recent years touched on sparingly, becomes the audio track for a dramatic, period-specific interpretation of his purported experiences. “It was beautiful, their re-creation of the time periods,” says Joe O’Connell, an Austin Chronicle reviewer covering the South by Southwest Film Festival.
In other words, this is no glorified slideshow or photo-gazing party. The expertly cast role of an adult Lazenby is played by Australian actor Josh Lawson, who charms his way through the film. Cameos are sprinkled throughout — Jake Johnson (New Girl), Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and Jane Seymour (in a role very different from that of the one she played in the Bond film Live and Let Die).
As Lazenby tells it, he stole his first car at age 6, was supposed to die by age 12 — he had only “half a kidney” — lost his virginity in his teens, met the prime minister, chased a girl to England, was scouted as a male model, sneaked into the casting session for James Bond (stealing a Sean Connery suit to do so), won the part, lost the girl of his dreams, slept with every woman on set and then turned his back on all the accolades. Lazenby recounts his best moments — the times he did anything for love — and the worst, the times he embarrassed himself or hurt others. What’s unexpected is that it “was a love story about the one who got away, more than it was really of him becoming James Bond,” O’Connell says.
In the interviews, Lazenby sheds tears. He laughs. He swears it’s all true. The film is more about the journey than the destination. Whether you know a lot or only a little about Bond or Lazenby before watching Becoming Bond, you’ll be OK.
Greenbaum developed a rapport with Lazenby that brought out the best material; the director told the audience at SXSW that Lazenby turned down the documentary multiple times before finally agreeing to participate. At the screening, when an audience member asked what happened to Lazenby’s distinctive mole, Greenbaum gave Lazenby a call and put him on speakerphone so everyone could hear his answer — he’d gotten it removed.
Come for the Bond branding, stay for Lazenby’s tall tales and charming arrogance. The film begins with a quote by William Churchill: “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” That’s the mentality Lazenby lived by, the one that allowed him to go from mechanic to Bond and then to leave that world behind.