Friday, November 24, 2006

Casino Royale

Ever since I first saw Dr. No on TV, I have been a Bond fan. I have seen all of them, usually multiple times (even the bad ones like Moonraker and Licence to Kill). Unfortunately, while I loved Pierce Brosnan as 007, I have thought for some time that the Bond franchise was going stale. The World is Not Enough in particular seemed like a compilation of stunts and set pieces from other Bond movies. It seemed as if EON Productions had run out of anything original to do with regards to the Bond films. Fortunately, this is not the case with Casino Royale.

This is not your father's James Bond movie. Gone are the numerous explosions, outlandish gadgets and the villain's secret fortresses. There are a few explosions in this film, but they number far fewer than those in past Bond movies (especially those from the Roger Moore era). And while there are gadgets to be had in this movie, they are much more realistic than gondolas that can transform into hovercraft or invisible cars. At the same time, however, this is very much your father's James Bond movie (or your grandfather's James Bond movie, if you're very young). James bond is not simply a charming rogue with an over active libido. He is a brutal killer, the assassin for Queen and country of the original novels and the earliest Sean Connery films. Indeed, the chases and explosions of many past Bond films have been replaced with some of the most visceral fight scenes in any 007 movie. To a large degree Casino Royale reminds me of both Dr. No and From Russia with Love, where the action often consisted of Bond's physical confrontations with deadly opponents. Even the opening credits seem to belong to the era of Connery; they reminded me of the opening credits of any number of spy films from the Sixties.

Indeed, Casino Royale is not only the first Bond movie in some time to have been based on one of Ian Fleming's novels (namely, the first Bond novel ever written), but it is also the first in a long time to be somewhat loyal to the novel upon which it is based. The basic plot of the novel, in which Bond must bankrupt the villain Le Chiffre in a card game, survives in the movie. Some scenes (including a particularly brutal one between Bond and Le Chiffre) and even lines from the book made it into the movie. I don't know how Ian Fleming would have felt about many of the Bond movies, but I have a feeling he would have liked Casino Royale.

Of course, the big question on many people's minds is how Daniel Craig actually played Bond. My answer to this question is that he does very, very well. Craig has a more difficult job than many of the actors who have stepped in the role, playing Bond at the beginning of his career as a 00 agent. Craig must not only show us why Bond came to treat women as ultimately disposable, why he prefers his martinis shaken and not stirred, and, to sum it up, how he became "Bond, James Bond," but retain enough of the personality of Bond in his later years that we can realistically believe this is 007. Personally, I think he succeeds admirably. In fact, Craig adds some depth and even a touch of sensitivity to his portrayal of Bond, something that was sometimes lacking even in the Sean Connery Bond movies.

Craig's task of portraying Bond realistically at the start of his career is aided a good deal by his fellow cast members. As Vesper Lynd, Eva Green is no mere bit of scenery, but creates a character who is intelligent and has a mind of her own. Mads Mikkelson is suitably villainous as Le Chiffre, who is definitely not the interchangeable power mad megalomaniac of many Bond movies. Le Chiffre has a life of his own, complete with his own goals and motivations. He is certainly not a straw man created for Bond to knock down. It is because the characters in Casino Royale are so well developed that director Martin Campbell gives us one of the best set pieces in any Bond film--the card game in which Bond faces off against Le Chiffre. Between the performances of Craig and Mikkelson and Campbell's direction, it is easily one of the most taut, most suspenseful set pieces in the franchise's history.

As I said earlier, the past few years I could not help but think the Bond franchise was going stale. Casino Royale is then precisely what it needed--a fresh start by going back to Ian's Fleming's novels and the early Connery movies, while at the same time giving us something new as well. I can only hope that EON Productions can follow up Casino Royale with a series of Bond films that are as good--and as different--as it is.


poppedculture said...

I think Matt Damon and the Bourne series really put the pressure on EON to remake their iconic figure - and they came through with flying colours. I hope they continue to keep each other on their toes.

Marisa said...

I JUST saw the new Bond movie today and it was great! I'm not even a hardcore "Bond Fan", but thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Plus, the storyline was pretty decent. Daniel Craig makes an excellent "007".

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Excellent review. I've never been a huge fan of oo7 but this new film sold me and seriously made a fan out of me. For the first time I can remember, I'm actually looking forward to a Bond film!