Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"Casino Royale". Reviewed. Now.

Hola everyone! Hope everyone had an excellent Thanksgiving. I had a whole post written up but, owing to some ongoing technical difficulties (i.e. DSL service to our apartment is temporarily out), I'm unable to access that scintillating post and will have to post it tomorrow ... or whenever our Bell South people manage to fix what's wrong.

Anyway. I saw "Casino Royale" with my dad and my brother this weekend. Good stuff, but not without its flaws. Based with some faithfulness on Ian Fleming's novel, "Casino Royale", this latest installment in the Bond saga is essentially the "Batman Begins" of the James Bond mythos. Apparently, the children of Albert R. Broccoli and current owners of the rights to the Bond character, realized that the franchise was getting stale and terrible with Pierce Brosnan playing Bond (though not through any fault of his), and needed an upgrade. Their hearts were in the right place and though I'd have preferred a more extensive overhaul of the franchise (which would have included hiring exciting filmmakers to direct instead of action-movie journeymen like Martin Campbell), what they managed to do here puts Bond on the right track.

First, Daniel Craig's fantastic as Agent 007. Watching the previous Bond actors, from Connery through Brosnan, I never felt like Bond was a dangerous or unpredictable guy. Watching Craig in the role, however, you get the impression that James Bond is a little bit out of his mind: Bond version 2006 is a dispassionate but eerily competent hitman who just happens to have a way with the ladies and just happens to drink martinis. The womanizing and the shaken-not-stirred thing are just components of a complex character in "Casino Royale", but they are not his defining characteristics as they have been in previous films. Craig's Bond is complex and real, however simple and direct he might be in his professional life. Put another way, it's fascinating to finally see a great actor play Bond -- the others either haven't had the chops to bring Fleming's Bond to life, or were never given the opportunity. Craig's got both here.

Though the casting is pitch perfect, the film itself is somewhat problematic. [Here I'll be getting into some possible SPOILERS, so if you haven't see it but plan to, best not to read on.]

First thing, the movie's front-loaded like all hell. The massive foot chase through a construction site in Madagascar is incredible, easily worth the price of admission, but it happens about 10 minutes into the movie; the remaining 2 hours are interesting, entertaining, all of that, but I was expecting a finale sequence to rival that first one in Madagascar and never got it (though Campbell probably intended the sinking building sequence to be it, but doesn't quite pull off the trick). Another problem with the movie is how it jettisons formula. In most cases, ditching formula would be a good thing, but not so much here: though doing away with the Robert McKee-model of screenwriting doesn't make "Casino Royale" terrible by any stretch, it does give the movie an episodic feel which did detract, I felt, from the movie's overall quality. There's the Carribean island episode, the museum episode, the gasoline truck at the airport episode, the long poker game episode, etc. etc. I enjoyed each of them, but when the credits rolled I felt like they added up to a fairly average action movie. Ditching formula is a two-edged sword: on one hand your audience doesn't know exactly what to expect from moment to moment, but on the other hand jettisoning that basic story structure risks disorienting the audience. For example, thirty minutes from the end of the movie, the ostensible antagonist, banker to the world's vermin Le Chifre (played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen), is killed not by James Bond, but by another unnamed but vaguely familiar assassin (turns out we saw him, Mr. White, in the film's first scene after the opening credit sequence). Formula dictates that Bond kills the film's heavy. Yes, it's predictable and formulaic, but there's a certain satisfaction a viewer feels when the long-awaited showdown takes place and our hero ends up on top. When Bond fails in the duty of the archetypal hero -- namely to kill the big baddie -- the movie feels disrupted and disjointed, and not in a good way. For a good ten minutes after the failure of our hero, perhaps longer, "Casino Royale" coasts along as Bond and his true love, Vesper Lynd (played by Eva Green, the girl from Bertolucci's"The Dreamers"), live their lives in the aftermath of their most recent brush with death very much like two people on the verge of living happily ever after. A great novelist once said all good fiction is about trouble -- ten minutes of screentime is a long time to go without any "trouble". The action gets going again eventually, but "Casino Royale" never manages to overcome that feeling of disruption before the director's title credit appears. But in the plus column, Eva Green manages to be a Bond girl with some depth, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, and Judi Dench all manage to be interesting during their few minutes of screentime, and the poker game (they don't play Texas Hold 'Em in European casinos, do they?) is actually intense and surprising throughout, which is hard to do with a game where all the characters are just sitting there, staring at one another. [End SPOILERS]

But all that is really just my overly wordy explanation of why I think "Casino Royale" failed to be a great movie, and managed only to be a good one. But there ain't nothing wrong with a new James Bond movie that's just good. Hell, any good movie in theaters is cause for celebration these days. And even with its flaws, Daniel Craig's performance raises up the entire enterprise to the must-see category for anyone who's ever enjoyed a James Bond movie. And though it's not saying a whole lot, I'll say it anyway: this one's as good as the best of them.

Anyway, that's my "Casino Royale" review. More Inanities tomorrow.


Speck said...

Casino Royale is a GREAT movie. saw it twice at the Chinese. I could see it again.

I think georgia is warping you.

Nathan said...

I gotta go with speck. I really think it is my favorite Bond movie. And Craig is definately my favorite Bond.

I did have some problems with it. The love bit in the middle got a little long for me. But the main thing that got old was the product placement. I didnt know Sony Ericson was the only cellphone made. And the

Hot girl: "blah blah blah is that at Rolex?"

Bond: "Omega."

Hot girl: "Lovely" (or whatever she said)

This was so blatent it soured me for a good 5 minutes.

But it got so good again I forgot about it completely soon enough.

Great movie.

JudgeHolden said...

Yeah, I should have mentioned the product placement. The Bond movies have been pretty famous for blatant product promotion the last few go-rounds (the Brosnan era), but back then it seemed like the products being promoted were products Bond might actually use. The new BMW convertible for example. In "Casino Royale", Bond's driving a Ford rental car. Kind of funny, but I have no confidence that this was a screenwriter's decision and not a money-grubbing decision by the producers to take Ford's money and run. In "Miami Vice", you got the feeling that the movie was defining cool as it existed in the summer of 2006 -- an artistic decision essentially. Watching "Casino Royale", seeing Bond handle all of the Sony merchandise he does, I only ever thought I was seeing a blatant commercial which I'd paid to be exposed to, not that I was seeing what James Bond would be using here at the end of 2006.

blankfist said...

I haven't seen it yet. Maybe I'll get off me ol' wife crackah and give it a peep. This Daniel Craig guy really fits the Bond mold, though, just from the trailers alone you can see the fit. Did anyone else see Layer Cake? Good stuff. Still, I have a soft spot for the Connery Bond - call me sentimental, but those films are Bond to me.