Monday, November 20, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW - "Casino Royale"

So, we saw the latest James Bond flick, Casino Royale, this weekend. I'm prepared to attempt a review, but I should tell you that I've already read two reviews of this movie and both were better than mine could hope to be:

Adi's review (on McDuffie's board)
Paul Cornell's review

Both are well-informed, insightful reactions to and critiques of the movie - even though I don't completely agree with them.

Casino Royale was a different kind of movie, in my opinion, and it's inspired a somewhat different kind of review from me. Among other things, I'll talk about my thoughts and feelings from before, during, and after having seen this flick. Hopefully, it'll be worth a read.
There will be no heavy-handed spoilers, but I may skirt the edge a bit more closely, this time around. Proceed accordingly - or not at all, if you prefer.

I saw Casino Royale - even before I'd heard anything about its content or intent - I heard about the casting of Daniel Craig as Pierce Brosnan's apparent replacement. What I knew of James Bond had everything to do with coolness, seduction, intelligence, and gadgetry. I expected Craig's presence, which I was familiar with from Layer Cake (due to my girlfriend's taste and influence), to preclude at least half of those elements.

"Surely," I thought, "this will be the first Bond film, in the past several years, that I pass up completely."

With Brosnan around, Bond casting seemed a no-brainer. After all, Bond was a natural evolution from the suave, debonaire, lying-ass Remington Steele. Brosnan could perform half-asleep and still earn his paycheck.

Hell, I literally learned the *word,* "debonaire" from Brosnan's 1980 television series with Stephanie Zimbalist. What could Mr. Craig have to teach me?

With Daniel Craig's casting, I'm sure Bond fans around the world collectively sighed with dismay.

...except, perhaps, for those who already knew what I had yet to discover: Casino Royale was not TRYING to present us with the Bond we knew from the silver screen.

This, apparently, would be the Bond from Ian Fleming's novels - which were completely unknown to me, even by reputation. Reportedly, though, the tone of the novels was quite different, somehow, from that of the Bond movies that had been produced in my adult life.


I didn't know what this meant about Bond's future, but it made me far more receptive to whatever changes they might make. Why? I guess that, once again, it comes down to expectations:

If they were trying to "replace" the uber-handsome Bond I knew with the duck-billed platypus to-come, then the filmmakers were screw-ups whose work didn't deserve my patronage.

IF, however, they were trying to go in a completely different direction - one that was validated over half a century, ago, by the source material - then they clearly knew more than I. Perhaps I had something to learn from Mr. Craig and company, after all.

During the movie, I found myself in an oddly anticipatory state - somewhere between high expectations and a preparedness to stop-drop-and-cringe.

The movie begins with a bit of suspense and intrigue. Immediately, we're told that this James Bond is, in fact, NOT a 007 - whatever that means (at least according to the on-screen character).

Ahh, so this is a "reboot." They're starting things over, again. Getting back to basics.

Then, we're given a very revealing glimpse of this Bond's character.

Next, there's a chase scene - something with which we are all familiar. A stake-out that results in James Bond chasing a bad guy. We get to see Craig's (and therefore Bond's) athleticism or lack thereof.

I wasn't terribly disappointed. In fact, despite Mr. Cornell's review (linked above), this scene was *very* "Batman Begins"-like. I mean that in a good way.

As the movie progresses, we see that this Bond is a slightly more complex and inherently flawed character than his most immediate predecessors and iterations.

In fact, this seemed to be a deliberate part of the deconstruction of the man we knew as "007." In fact, I submit that this film is as much a deconstruction as it is a reboot - though some may find that phrasing rather oxymoronic.

Even the storytelling is a departure from the formulaic. Villains are familiar and, yet, very unfamiliar. The women, and Bond's reactions to them, are similarly dissimilar. Even the threat is on a distinctly different level than one might expect.

That said, many of the scenes in this movie are intense.

These highly capable actors disappeared into their intensely layered roles in ways that mega-stars frequently find to be all but impossible.

I started off watching Daniel Craig's version of Ian Fleming's James Bond.

Within minutes, I was simply watching James Bond.

After having sat through two and a half hours of the latest Bond flick, I should have been fatigued - more than ready to retire for the evening. In fact, I was intellectually and emotionally energized.

This film took its time and so, I, as an audience member, took my time digesting it and immersing myself within its story. By the time it was over, I was aware that I'd been in the theater for so long, but, like an alcoholic who embraces the bender, but by-passes the hangover, I emerged unscathed and ready for more.

I'm actually ready for a sequel. In the meantime, I'm seriously considering watching THIS movie, again.

I wasn't aware that so many people were bothered by the transformation of the James Bond franchise into a car-whoring, gadget-fashioning, style-over-substance sideshow.

The conversations I've had since viewing this fantastic movie have opened my eyes to the trappings of the previous Bond flicks - many of which I enjoyed. This film embraced the best of them without becoming infected by the worst.

I highly recommend this movie and I hope that, if and when you see it, you'll return and tell me how very right ... or very wrong, I was about it.


Frank 'viperteq' Young said...


I'm glad that you really enjoyed this latest Bond adventure. I admire the fact that you took the time and thought to reflect on the movie on it's own merits instead of trying to compare Craig's performance to that of Connery, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan (there's actually a sixth man that has played Bond, but his name escapes me. His one and only film appearance was in the movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" - a bit of history for you to go and dig up).

Like our previous discussion on Lord of the Rings, the true Bond that fans across the world should know is the one that Ian Fleming presents in his books. Fleming, a spy himself working for the British Government, always presented Commander James Bond as a deeply complex, brooding character. One who is cynical and expects people to do what they've always done yet still manages to get up everyday and go save the "free world". A man who has earned his place within the Double O section, not because he relishes in what he does, but because it's the only thing that he is good at.

When Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman produced the first film in 1962 starring a then unknown actor by the name of Sean Connery, the books had been around for several years prior. "Dr. No", while true to the plotline of the book, strayed significantly from the tone of the character that Fleming set in his books. The reason mainly is due to the times that the film was produced in: the sixties were a time of campy, cartoonish action and characters (think Batman television series). The film however was succesful however due to the action and plotlines which had never really been presented before on film.

This new Bond film returns the character back to its roots and presents it as Fleming would have liked. This is mainly due to the times now: Audiences want more authentic characters and stories that they can believe in. No one accepts the fairy tell of a guy who foils the crime and gets the girls without incurring some sort of loss on his part or without having to make decisions that are often of moral ambiguity. Such is the way of real life and we expect art to imitate it flawlessly.

I hope that other people will give this new film a chance as you did because it truly is a well made film and Daniel Craig IS Bond, even moreso than Sean Connery who originated the role oh so long ago. I'll catch a lot of flack for that last statement, but I can only call it as I see it.

By the way, if your girl introduced you to "Layer Cake", you better keep her family: That's a woman with style and class......

The name of the actor who portrayed Bond in the film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is Australian George Lazenby.

West said...

wow. Apparently, blogger's just not diggin' Firefox, today. I haven't been able to comment in or edit my own blog for some time, now.

Anyway, thanks for the Bond education, viperteq!

Frank 'viperteq' Young said...

Hey, if Firefox is actin' up a little bit, download and try out Opera.