Becoming Bond, a Hulu original documentary about one-time James Bond actor George Lazenby’s life begins with a quote from Winston Churchill. “History will be kind to me,” it reads, “for I intend to write it.” And for the next 90 minutes, that’s precisely what happens as director Josh Greenbaum lets Lazenby tell the story of his life. Most documentaries would break up that telling with commentary from the other people involved, but the actor is given full focus here. It’s a risk and one that doesn’t really pay off.
Those who aren’t too familiar with Bond’s history will probably know Lazenby mostly as the guy who took over the iconic role after Sean Connery left the franchise (for the first time) and did such a bad job that he never acted again. That’s sort of the premise Greenbaum works from when the film starts, but he subtly corrects that assumption. Though Lazenby’s one and only appearance as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was considered a disappointment financially, he was still offered a contract for the next six Bond films. So, how did this guy not become the most famous actor in the world?
However, rather than focus on the film’s production or how Lazenby got the role in the first place to answer that question, Greenbaum goes all the way back to the beginning. Thanks to a birth defect and a major surgery to correct it, Lazenby was left with only half a kidney and wasn’t expected to live past his 13th birthday. That diagnosis, and the fact that the grey-haired and wizened Lazenby clearly beat it, defined the kind of man the actor became. He was fearless and rebellious from an early age, constantly acting out in school. For instance, he didn’t think learning geography was worthwhile because he didn’t plan to visit the places his teacher pointed out on the globe.
Or the time he brought a bag of bats (the furry, flying kind, not the wooden kind) and let them loose inside a classroom just for laughs. Most of Lazenby’s stories are as whacky and amusing as that and Greenbaum understandably found his stories charming enough to structure his whole film around the way Lazenby tells them. And maybe that would work if he didn’t make some very questionable creative choices.
If Becoming Bond consisted solely of a shot of Lazenby talking directly into the camera, it would be pretty boring. Other documentaries break up the monotony with other interviews or archival footage, but Greenbaum foregoes both and instead enhances Lazenby’s words with purposely-goofy reenactments. Some of these work. For instance, the aforementioned “bag of bats” incident is funny and ridiculous. Most of his stories lend themselves to that tone and Lazenby comes off as a bit of a doofus who gets by on serendipitous moments of charm and overconfidence. It’s in the more serious episodes of Lazenby’s life that the reenactments fail him.
Part of the problem is the casting. Josh Lawson, who plays Lazenby for most of the film, doesn’t really look like him. Moreover, while he gets Lazenby’s charm and slightly bumbling quality, it’s hard to see the masculine cool he so effortlessly conveys in his interview. On some level, Greenbaum is deliberately undercutting Lazenby’s own act of myth-making, but the choice also makes it difficult to buy everything he says. At one point, after a comparatively innocuous admission, Greenbaum stops the interview and asks Lazenby if everything he’s said so far is true. Even Lazenby himself is confused by the question and while it doesn’t quite make sense in the moment, as the the film goes on, it’s easier to understand Greenbaum’s skepticism. Lazenby certainly exaggerates stories of daily threesomes and LSD-feuled acts of public nudity, but even in smaller moments, Greenbaum’s interjection pushes viewers to question Lazenby’s narration.
That’s particularly true of his years-long, off-and-on relationship with a wealthy, sophisticated girl named Belinda (Cassandra Clementi), whom he met as a young man growing up in Australia. Their story takes up a surprising amount of the film’s runtime and for good reason―Lazenby was kind of obsessed with her. In fact, the whole reason he moved to London was to get her back. It’s quite a saga, and yet the end of it is deeply unsatisfying. Not to spoil real-life events, but things didn’t work out for the couple, and though Lazenby partially places the blame on his Bond fame, there’s clearly something he’s not saying.
Though Greenbaum sets up the mystery of Lazenby’s decision to leave the Bond franchise at the beginning, he gives curiously little attention to it overall. In fact, the production of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the drama that followed only take up the last third of the film. It’s there especially that the film suffers from Greenbaum’s decision to only give us Lazenby’s perspective. Though shots of newspaper clippings refer to on-set tension and old interviews suggest disagreements with producers, it’s all glossed over in Lazenby’s retelling. Maybe he’s actively engaged in deception, but it’s just as likely that the drama no longer matters to him so many years on. He’s clearly come to terms with his decision, and while there’s something uplifting in seeing that he doesn’t appear to regret missing out on all that fame and fortune, it’s not that satisfying narratively. Anyone but the biggest Bond fans would be left wondering what really happened and the film ends up seeming not like a documentary, but a sort of indulgent vanity project.
George Lazenby is an interesting guy, but as a complete picture of his life, this movie is woefully inadequate. Moreover, the reenactments used to tell his story may be funny, but they don’t really add anything. Talking heads in documentaries are a somewhat tired and lazy convention, but they would at least help viewers get a more complete picture of Lazenby’s life. As it stands, Becoming Bond is a curio, at best, and while it’s fun to watch, there’s very little substance. Not unlike a Bond film, really.