Saturday, 1 May 2010

Three measures of Gordon's; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel.

No 56 - Casino Royale
Director - Martin Campbell

Bond is a bit of a mixed bag. After all, the films can be fantastic. A staple of a family get together, the quintessential Sunday evening film as you digest your big old roasty roast. They're full of action and adventure and silliness - they were fun for all the family.
It may be true that the franchise had a tendency to go off track and become too bonkers, but they remained good clean fun for all the family (even grannies love Goldfinger).

Not any more. Casino Royale doesn't flinch in letting you know where you stand. You're standing in more grit than the Wu Tang Clan's gravel pit. This is adult, this is serious... we know because we're in black and white. For it takes two kills to become a 'Double O' agent and we alternate between Bond's two kills - one in clean crisp and classy 'Schindler's List' grey scale and the other in a far more frenzied dirty Pi-style black and white. Daniel Craig's Bond is almost a shark. Dead eyed and deadly. He will beat the crap out of you with a savagery impossible to see in Roger Moore.

Casino Royale is a bit of a strange one because for the first time we're rebooting rather than continuing the story... So we start again with a new Bond. A rough and angry chauvinistic bastard of a man, far more in keeping with Fleming's descriptions in the book.

I am going to talk about how this film has differed from Classic Bond and about what I think works and what I think is too Bourne in this re-incarnation. However, firstly I want to geek out about the titles. The song may be a bit non-descript (whilst keeping the arrogance and horns of a Bond Theme) but the visuals are beautiful. It captures the feel of 1960's cinema and the feel of a classic Bond intro but it moves it forward, it makes it more interesting than merely having bikini-clad women dancing around. Not many films still have the big epic title sequences and theme songs, so it is nice to see it...

There are a few other little touches which appear, tying the 're-boot' to the main franchise, mainly through tongue in cheek nods.

For example:
  • The 1964 Silver Aston Martin
  • Bond emerges from the water in an amusing little reversal of Honey Ryder's entrance
  • Whilst working undercover, Bond gives Vesper a typically innuendo laden alias - Miss Stephanie Broadchest
  • And of course we get the origin story of the Vesper Martini... shaken, not stirred.
There is only one big integral thing which has remained from the old films to this film, the casting of Dame Judi Dench as M (whilst Q and Moneypenny didn't make it to the screen); she is brilliant and Martin Campell obviously agrees as he was the man who originally cast her when he relaunched Bond for the first time.

Besides the odd subtle nod and the wonderful Dame Dench, the film tries to distance itself from the cliches of old Bond, and especially the tone of old Bond - we lose the jokey feel and instead focus on the action. Everything in this film is a catalyst for a big action sequence (or a sequence in which Daniel Craig gets his shirt off - clearly he is part of team Jacob) and whilst it does have the obligatory Parkour scene (which all films seemed to do a few years ago) it has the decency to do it well, and to get Sébastien Foucan, one of the founders of the sport, involved. The film even manages to make a massive game of poker interesting to watch - admittedly it mixes in some big and ridiculous action sequences - at one point Bond stops himself from having a heart attack using a defribillator in his car... for all the gritty realism this is still Bond after all, no savage emergency tracheotomies her, it is still far more glam than Bourne's world. I am also pleasantly distracted from cards by having Tyrone (you silly fat bastard) as one of the card players. I mean he doesn't say anything, but is he there? 'Course he is.

There are two major characters that I've yet to mention. Firstly Vesper Lynd - important for being one of only two women Bond has ever fallen in Love with (to the best of my knowledge), both of whom succumb to similar fates - played by the fabulous Eva Green (who is in the sexiest screen moment ever when she pretends to be the Venus de Milo during The Dreamers). Her character is wonderful in this, a perfect foil to Bond in that she is almost exactly the same. She is also a fluctuating contradiction of passion and aloof-ness. She just can't handle the killings. Sadly, I find her story very weird (especially Bond's cold detachment from her towards the end) and I find that as the story moves to Venice after the Casino Royale Poker Extravaganza, the story starts to lose its way. It never completely does it, but it begins to threaten unravelling. I think a neater edgier story could have been made if the final couple of acts had been tightened.

And on to the final character I wish to discuss - LeChiffre. Mad Mikkelsen plays to the character's weaknesses. Emphasising his slight frame, his slimy cowardice, his asthma and his iconic tear duct which causes him to occasional cry blood. This is in every way a Bond Villain, with a mildly cartoony physical deformity but a keen and plotting mind, and utterly dangerous. You could argue that the scene in which LeChiffre tortures Bond shows the sheer horrors he is willing to impose on people; and you could say it is either evidence of the darker and more realistic tone the film has taken, or that it is just another reason for Daniel Craig to get his kit off. You're probably right regardless of which one you choose.

So, a conclusion. Really, it is an excellent action film. It is tense, it is gripping and it whizzes along at a breakneck speed. But both the film and Daniel Craig's Bond lack the charm and comfort of classic Bond. A move which I know was deliberate and which has helped the franchise. But a move which is still regrettable.

Maybe if they had managed to squeeze in David Niven and Peter Sellers it would have been better.

1 comment:

Claire said...

The Wu Tang Clan reference made me happier than I can truly explain.