Movie Review: Casino Royale (2006) - James Bond Reborn
A new James Bond film is an event, a global one, affecting over half the world's population. When it's a new actor assaying the role, it's all the more exciting. Thus, it was with sheer trepidation and excitement that we stepped up to the ticket booth this afternoon. It was an impromptu decision, with little hope of success. The machine blinked the words, "3:55 show Filling Fast". The decision was an easy one, albeit entered into with some thought of the advisability of having two young toddlers in tow while experiencing l'affaire Chiffre.
As it turned out, the younger one decided to be her usual charming self and critique the opening credits in her inimitable way. The wife gracefully opted out of the virginal pleasures of experiencing blond hotness coupled with glam violence, with a natural sense of disappointment.
Turning to the film, at first blush, it appears to have all the right elements of a fine Bond film - it blends breakneck action sequences with the latest gadgets, high brow society with unsavory and downright evil characters, and of course, fast cars, beautiful women and a sense of doing things for Queen, country, and Chicken tikka masala.
Unfortunately, the form belies the function. The new Bond, Daniel Craig, is more son of Jack Bauer than suave spy, despite all pretensions to the latter. The evil characters, while lacking true depth, possess a secret knowledge of the workings of global politics, making the knight's quest futile and at best an exercise in self-redemption. Some of the essential elements of the Bond we know, such as his taste for baccarat, are replaced with more plebeian games like Hold'em Poker.
We see glimpses of the old Bond, and quite a few beginnings of the later Bond, such as the alleged origin of the "shaken, not stirred" Martini and the first hesitant steps towards a cynical acceptance of the impermance of love, betrayal, death, and loyalty. The early Bond is fused somehow with the later Bond, creating a grotesque character that is self-aware of his own destiny as lone gunman in the service of greater causes which sometimes align with his own not-as-yet manifest destiny and personal loyalties.
His superiors have a better understanding of his base nature and value, although in this instalment, ostensibly the first chronologically, they give him more leeway than might be allowed someone less destined for glory. As we know from the other films, the hands-off treatment becomes the norm with Bond. This is not unlike the treatment of Anakin Skywalker, and the influence does not end there unfortunately. While we are spared Jar Jar Binks, the romantic interlude might have been constructed by George Lucas' hand, although thankfully it does not last long, and the sense of foreboding overshadows the evanescent romance.
The romantic side of Bond is not incongrous with his character, but coming in this film post-climatic as it were, has the same effect as a post-orgasmic first date. Fortunately, later analysis reveals the love to have been a true one, if typically short-lived, and thus we can take a quantum of solace in the memory of young love. The satisfaction is diminished, however, by the stereotypical Bond girl portrayal of Vesper Lynd by Eva Green, the 'face of Armani'. The hint of 'damaged goods' from the Fleming novel is given up, and the inevitable betrayal, followed by redemption through sacrifice is given a cinematic flourish.
Significant changes are made to the political themes of the film, as compared to the novel, or the earlier film/television versions. Le Chiffre gives up his original low-paying job as paymaster of a trade union for master terrorist financier. This elevation works negatively to demean Bond, as Le Chiffre gloats that he is more valuable to Bond's paymasters than Bond himself. SMERSH is given the heave-ho, for a nameless syndicate, with Tarantino-style characters such as Mr. White.
The film-makers display an admirable knowledge of Bond lore, such as his antecedents, his preferences, a subtle reference to an absent Miss MoneyPenny, and in a sly nod to the 1954 television adaptation starring Barry Nelson, naming the local British agent Mathis, the name of the Vesper Lynd character in the television adaptation.
The gadgets are stock items from Best Buy shelves, barring a few novelties, and Q does not put in an appearance, as in the novel, sending a minion to inject a cryptic implant into Bond. Q seems to have decided to trade his scientist's hat for a marketing one, and the product placements festoon the film beyond tolerance.
The cars are another story. Some of the most slick cars and driving sequences one has experienced in a Bond film are presented, including the Ford Mondeo MkIV, the Aston Martin DBS, and the venerable DB5. Bond makes short order of a couple of the better ones. The opening sequence post the credits is a heart-stopping rondo on an oil rig in Uganda, reminiscent briefly of the Eiffel Tower sequence from a View To A Kill. The African terrorism references are an indicator of the political savviness of the film's producers, as is expected of Bond films, given that recent threat assessments rate African terror outfits quite high.
The quintessential opening credits and song (by Chris Connell) are memorable, and the evolution in Bond credit sequences is a topic for another essay.
The film was a reckless series of hi-jinks that had it's finger in the global terror pie, and one must say one enjoyed it, despite the quibbles expressed about the character.
Movie Review: Casino Royale (2006) - James Bond Reborn
- » Published on November 17, 2006
- » Type: Review
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