Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale (2006)

England/USA/Germany/Czech Republic. Action/Thriller. 144 minutes. Directed by Martin Campbell. Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Isaach De Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic, Tobias Menzies, Claudio Santamaria, Sebastien Foucan, Malcolm Sinclair, Richard Sammel, Ludger Pistor, Joseph Millson.Cinematography by Phil Meheux. Edited by Stuart Baird. Production Design by Peter Lamont. Art Direction by Peter Francis, James Hambridge, Steven Lawrence, Dominic Masters. Music by David Arnold. Casting by Stéphane Foenkinos, Debbie McWilliams. Costume Design by Lindy Hemming. Makeup Design by Paul Engelen. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis based on the novel by Ian Fleming. Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

7 December 2006

Obvious opening line: So here it is.

To many, a new Bond film is nothing to get excited about. To me, it is. Or it would have been if it was just another 007 entry: it is not. Therefore it is not only excitement I feel, it is an overload of excitement – with added undercurrents of disturbing worries. A more detailed explanation of my anxieties can be read here. In short though, I have been concerned for a little less than a year over the idea of creating a canon 007-prequel with the intent to close the series in favor of a ”new”. Being a Bond fan, and feeling that the 007 movie franchise is nothing short of a unique piece of cinema history it seems like an unnecessary move. With a new Bond and a different screenplay than that of, say, Die Another Day, the producers could just as easily make a fresh looking Bond film without destroying the entire foundation. It felt rushed. So I waited for nearly two weeks before my friend asked me, ”Well, when are we going to see that damn Bond film?” and I said, ”Well, how ‘bout tomorrow?”. So it was. Late, we rushed to the screening room and entered to the gaze of Columbia’s Statue of Liberty.

Nervous in my seat, my nervous breakdown began immediately. ”I KNEW IT!” I thought, ”They couldn’t help tampering with the opening sequence!”. Sure, this was perhaps objectively speaking a minor thing but in light of my previous essay on the matter, and the reformation it symbolized, it was a sad and depressing sight to me. As if that wasn’t enough, I am then forced to endure the worst Bond theme since… well, Madonna. Then I think to myself: Alright, just relax, you’re watching a Bond film at the movies. It doesn’t happen all too often. So I sink back and put my analytic mind into snooze, with the intent of getting my rocks off rather than rip my hair to pieces thinking about what’s in for me in this this Casino gamble.

140 minutes later, as the credits roll, I stand with my coat on making sure that ”James Bond Will Return”. I mumble something like ”Well that about matched my expectations”, and when me and my partner exit the movie house we say in unison: ”Well it wasn’t a BOND movie”.
Having not read the book, and always thanking Cubby rather than Fleming when it comes to Bond anyway, I couldn’t argue with purist 007-fans saying that this is the greatest Bond film since the 60’s. These were the same people who thought Timothy Dalton did a great return to a more genuine Bond. Nothing wrong with that, but they are simply not playing on my field. On my field, Bond DOES care about his Martinis and without an invisible car or two it just wouldn’t be a satisfying day at the office. There are many things to say about Casino Royale and I will try to be specific and somewhat short.

First off, just to make certain it’s clear, it was not a bad film. Not in any way is this a weak and uninspired film. It is a rough-edged and gritty spy action film, powerful and intelligent with strong characters and surprises at every turn. Daniel Craig is arguably the best actor ever to portray Bond and judging on quality, our beloved Red-Sausage-Neighbour Mads Mikkelsen is one of the top three or so actors to portray the villain. Eva Green is by far the most intricate and well-portrayed Bond girl. The stunt numbers are of bona-fide Bond magnitude, in short: nothing but awesome, and at least for the first half it is an action packed wonderwork of technical splendor.
Now, with that out of the way I hope I didn’t brake any toes on the Pro-Casino Royalers. This was definitely a worthy action thriller. Over to the things that I found notable, concerning whether or not this is a worthy 007-film.
Casino Royale is an ambitious destruction of the franchise, the producers have clearly been active in their work of deciding what is to be renewed and what is to be screwed. First of all, and this is well-known by now, it is clearly a darker and more violent film than even License to Kill (1989) which seemed like the limit of where you could take that benefit of Bond’s occupation. In this film necks are twisted, skulls are crashed on cracking tile walls, blood squirt from broken noses, torture is used in the most sadistic ways a Freudian can imagine and when death comes, there is no time given for final speeches. I guess this was unavoidable and to tell the truth, it didn’t bother me immensely to watch the first Bond film in years with a 15-year rating in Sweden. Bond shoots, Bond scores and that’s really how it’s always been.
Secondly, the classic 007-plot that basically has been used since Dr.No (1962) has been scratched. This is more debatable. I for one can agree that the entertainment value of having the same intrigue for 20 films has it’s limitations, even though it’s a safe and secure tradition (I thought The World Is Not Enough(1999) was oh-so-cosy) but that doesn’t mean anything goes. There is no mad man in this film, trying to blow the world up with a secret weapon and Bond doesn’t have the luxury to stumble upon obvious clues leading to his secret lair which Bond by hitting the self-destruction-button (who came up with that idea?) blow up in a million little pieces, before smooching away with some hottie on a beach. The first half of this film has some giant action sequences, some of which seem a bit out of place but that eventually give us quite the usual 007-trade of finding the henchmen, leading him to the villain. Then we have one hour of……. poker?
Yes. As much as Thunderball (1965) was a film about diving, Casino Royale is a film about playing poker. And if you’re in my shoes, this is just not very interesting. Sure, mr. Bond excuses himself to kick some bad-guy-ass and nearly getting quite dead in another sequence, but the main idea of the film is that of Craig and Mikkelsen trying to win a game of poker, that is important to the baddie but not really to the bondie. And also, when the pot is that of like 15 million dollars you kind of loose interest in who’s going to win, even if the bad guy wants to fund his terrorist acts. ”Does it look like we need the money?” Felix Leiter asks Bond during a break. No. It doesn’t. That’s why it ultimately lacks. And not only is it strange, it stretches out and enters the (first) ending of the movie. When we think we’re in for a nice finale, people are still playing poker! I go, ”You are late for the settling of the scores, boys!”. The film ends quite abruptly, without any real excitement and the second ending that follows does very little for the pace of the film.
For a reader who hasn’t seen the film, I might be a little foggy but this anyhow leads us to the third point: flesh and blood. Yes, we have a serious and soul-filled Bond character here, and we have a villain that is nothing but human and on top of that we have a Bond girl who can melt James’ heart. Real Bond-buffs need no reminding that this actually is nothing new, since George Woody Lazenby the old chap did marry the lovely Diana Rigg in the classic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). We know that Bond does have a heart and the trauma of Tracy’s death has been mentioned, albeit very subtle, throughout a couple of later Bond films. So that this film dives into a downright romance story for a while, is not very strange. But having it in a film with sadism and bone-breaking-violence…. no, it’s not my bowl of soup. It becomes quite uneven and even though I appreciate the idea, it is one of the film’s major flaws.
Another problem, though I feel like a bitch to mention it, is Daniel Craig. As I said, he is a good actor and he delivers 007 with weight. But it becomes a problem when we are to get to know a more personal Bond, and Craig keeps a massive stoneface worse than Timothy Dalton’s – not to mention the ugly and near-psychotic nature of the character. M gives 007 a hard time for being self-centered and ruthless and, well, I couldn’t agree more. Bond in this film is simply not a very nice guy and I didn’t really feel like rooting for him. The same goes for the villain, while Mikkelsen is a great actor his role becomes quite bland in all it’s ”normality”.

No matter which way I look at it, Casino Royale, even though being a good and satisfying action picture, ends up a bit over-produced. The plot is strange and the desire to flesh up the story creates a lurch and the film eventually looses it’s balance. Why both the hero and the villain are so colourless I don’t know. Perhaps the reformation of Bond should have been completed over the course of two or three films, to get the balance right? If it’s all worth it, that is to say. Maybe it’s just me, but somewhere it feels like more fun to watch the mad man in the lab getting blown away from a superhero-agent than watching two guys play poker for an hour. All in all, the future of 007 is a bit shaky in my eyes, and I guess that in the next installment, we will know for sure if this reformation has been in vain.