Friday, November 14, 2008

Repeat Bidness: Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Release: 11.17.06
DVD Release: 03.13.07
Rated PG-13
2 hours, 24 minutes

Full Price ($$$$)

After Die Another Day wrapped in 2002 Pierce Brosnan officially “retired” the mantle of James Bond. The search began for the new Bond and many names surfaced; Clive Owen, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Henry Cavill, among others. Ultimately, the role went to Daniel Craig (Munich). Many people, myself included, wondered if Craig could measure up to the role.

Casino Royale opens in warm black and white with Bond verbally sparring with a fellow agent. The scene's mood, much like that of the audience, is one of anxiety. Then, like a splash of cold water to the face, the dialogue is interrupted by flashbacks to Bond in a gritty fistfight with an informant. The sequence ends in a familiar way: Bond with gun in hand spins on his heel to face the camera, a shot rings out, and the bleeding gun barrel wavers into the title sequence. Even with one of the quickest and dirtiest openings in a Bond film, the question--can the blue-eyed, blond haired Craig be Bond--was yet to be answered.

Casino Royale is a return to the origins of Bond. Newly promoted to 00 agent status, James is on a mission to follow a trail of bombers and blood money to find the funding source for terrorists. After disappointing boss M (Judi Dench, Tomorrow Never Dies), Bond continues his search which leads him to the banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, King Arthur). Bond, accompanied by HM Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), must infiltrate a high stakes card tournament in the hopes of defeating Le Chiffre, and thus destroy his organization.

Like many Bond films before it, Casino Royale incorporates the latest cultural fads to update this decades-old character. Bond plays Texas Hold ’em, villains text message, the buzzword is terrorism, and James even has an extended chase of a bomb maker where the two utilize their aptitude for the French extreme sport of parkour. But like every Bond film, the basics are still prevalent: the tailored tuxedo, the loaded Astin Martin, the dry wit and the martini shaken, not stirred. Director Martin Campbell (Goldeneye) reignites the series. He captures a look and feel of Bond reminiscent of the Sean Connery era. Scenes in the Bahamas have a vibrant, crisp almost Technicolor feel to them. Bond’s wardrobe is trim, stylish yet classic. In fact, a scene of Craig swaggering to the hotel in a white linen shirt and pressed, bluegray slacks immediately conjures an image of Connery. And if that isn’t enough for you, seeing Craig take a “spin around the block” in a 1964 Astin Martin will definitely hearken back to the films of yore. Much like Connery and Brosnan, Craig is a no-nonsense Bond. He meets danger head-on with unparalleled smugness and can spit lines that make women buckle at the knees. But when the time for talk is over, Bond throws down be it in slugfests or elaborate action sequences. Craig portrays Bond as a man on a mission, one which often requires that, without hesitation, he get his hands dirty.

As for the story, most classic elements remain. Aside from some spectacular cellular technology, Royale is fairly devoid of the standard array of Q inspired gadgets and Q himself. Even Miss Moneypenny got a holiday. Royale doesn't even have hat-throwing assassins or massive overgrown thugs to hinder Bond. At least, the film does have a brief appearance by Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, Syriana). Mikkelsen has a seediness to his visage that’ll make Le Chiffre an instantly memorable Bond villain. And Le Chiffre’s special lady friend Valenka, played by Ivana Milicevic (Love Actually) says little but has an equally up-to-no-good look in her eyes. Speaking of women, Bond has a turn with breath-taking ladies Eva Green and Caterina Murino.

Casino Royale
sets the record as the longest Bond film ever made at nearly two and a half hours. It was only near the end that the length weighed on me. I am uncertain whether it was due to tidying a few unwieldy loose plot elements or if I just needed a bathroom break. Despite these few minutes of languid storytelling, I wasn’t about to excuse myself no matter how briefly, from this riveting film. The only fault I truly have with the film is that it had one of the weakest title sequences in years, though the title song by Chris Cornell was on point.

Dirty Undies
As mentioned, Milicevic, Green and Murino provide a wealth of Bond-woman hotness. Murino in particular makes you wish Casino Royale could have been the first R-rated Bond film! But Craig is no slouch himself. He gets several opportunities to prove that Bond has to look as good out of his clothes as he does in them. Whether he’s rising from the ocean or being tortured for his secrets, Craig’s rock hard pecs and abs will make you think twice, maybe even three times about messing with Bond. Craig uses those mus-kles to beat down the bad guys with a callous brutality. This Bond film definitely spills more than its share of blood.

The Money Shot
So with the film watched and all that said, is Craig Bond? I must admit to being a Craig skeptic from the moment he was chosen for the role. But having seen the film, I say with certainty he has the swagger, the demeanor and the charisma to be Bond. I personally still think his face looks like that of a battered monkey at times but only in certain lighting. Primate poutiness aside, I can’t wait to see where Craig and the new era of Bond take the world, and I hope you will be as excited as I am.

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  1. This and On Her Majesty's Secret Service are my favorite Bond films.

  2. I enjoyed OHMSS but it's not a fave for me. Goldfinger & Spy Who Loved Me top my list. I think License to Kill is the only one that I really dislike.