Monday, November 20, 2006

Casino Royale (2006)

My brother IM'd me to tell me what he didn't like about the new James Bond film, Casino Royale. Also the plot. Well, not so much the plot -- because who cares? it's a Bond film -- but things that happen. I could tell you the story about how he told me when Jessica Walter was about to stab Clint Eastwood in Play Misty for Me, a full minute before it happened, but that's for another time.

But in the inevitable comparison with so many films before in this lucrative franchise, let's see what we expect this Bond film to have:

* The guitar Bond theme lead-in. No. Disappointing, that. I suspect my brother hated the film right there and then.

* Inventive title sequence. Check. Intriguing.

* Good looking guy in a tuxedo. Check.

* Clever one-liners. Check. There are many here, but they're not the sardonic one-liners of the old Bond. They tell something, make you think a little about what Bond is all about. When we learn that Bond prefers his women married because they're less complicated, he has the following exchange with Vesper Lynd, a government accountant, when she wonders if she should lock her door. Vesper: Am I going to have a problem with you, Bond?
Bond: No, don't worry. You're not my type. Vesper: Smart? Bond: Single.

* Bond girls. Beautiful. Check. Only two Bond girls, but, yes, check.

* Lots of senseless sex that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Not really. Half a check. Heck, even the Chinese government is allowing Casino Royale to be shown. So, rate this film high on the violence and killing scale, but low on titillation.

* High-tech gadgets galore. A few, not a lot. The best high-tech thingie in this movie, oddly enough, is the cell phone. This is clearly modern day, and not the Ian Fleming Bond of the early '60's.

* A high-stakes gambling game. Check and double-check. Instead of the baccarat from the original Casino Royale novel, it's Texas Hold 'Em, in a nod to Las Vegas. It's hard to film an exciting poker game, but Casino Royale manages to do it.

* M, disdainful as always. Another huge check here. And Judi Dench is cashing this check for all it's worth.

This isn't the Bond of the past four decades. Oh, no. This is a younger, rough-around-the-edges Bond, whose British accent hints at a blue-collar Britain. And Daniel Craig, the guy they picked to fill those large tuxedo pumps, is an actor. This may not be the Bond you wanted, or think you wanted, but put your doubts away. If you can respond at all to those piercingly blue eyes of his and those pouty lips, you'll agree. Craig gives us everything we need to overcome those other portrayals.

We get plenty of action scenes, lots of chase scenes, that live up to the Bond hype. They're skillfully done, though, to show us the Bond who just got his Double-Zero. These scenes feed the plot and build the man for us. He's very physical but still smart enough to pick an easier way out. However, he's liable to leave a real mess behind, a mess for M and her diplomats to clean up later.

When Craig comes out of the Caribbean in one scene, we're reminded strongly of Ursula Andress' ascent out of the water in Dr. No-- striking, beautiful, narcissistic. It's terrific, and tells us at once that this is the body of a fighter reminiscent of the young Sean Connery (and certainly not Roger or Pierce). That one scene sets the tone.

The cast is interesting, not what you'd expect. Bond girl Caterina Murino, as the wife of one of Bond's adveraries, is head-turningly gorgeous, yes. But not so for Eva Green, the mainstay of the piece. But she grows on you. She doesn't have Venus-de-Milo type beauty, but there's something about her eyes. And the fact that she makes you care about her.

And it's always great to see the charming Giancarlo Giannini as Bond's helpmate. New villain Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is something new, and rather frightening.

There are a couple of scenes that you wonder about, that stretch the realm of believability, especially in the Miami airport where both villain and Bond gain easy access to the tarmac. And some scenes seem to go nowhere and we're not sure why. But we all know that's not why we're here: we're not here to puzzle our way out of scenarios. We're here to enjoy this virtual-reality, E-ticket ride.

I hesitate to say this, but I will: this is the best Bond film yet. It isn't a true origin story, as we don't really know how he came to MI:5, but we really don't care. The story dives in, and we discover who Bond is. And how he changes into the Bond we came to know.

My brother didn't like the film because it's not familiar, it's not the same. After enduring the same thing for so many years, and being bored to death, I say hear, hear!

Thumb's up.


At 11:21 AM, Blogger catattack said...

From UmAl:
what?! no opening da da da daa da da da da da da
daaaaa guitar theme?!!! what were they thinking?!!!!


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