Thursday, November 13, 2008

Casino Royale

Feeling some disconnect with James Bond and the movie going audience a new direction for the franchise was decided on. Bond would be reborn. The producers decided the series would relaunch the character in the present day still new to the game, snubbing their nose at 42 years of continuity and character development and removing him out of the crucible of the Cold War which formed him.

MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is promoted to 00-status and given a license to kill, but gets in trouble on his first mission, which creates a PR nightmare. M (Judi Dench) sends him on vacation only to discover Bond is continuing his mission in the Bahamas, tracking down a banker, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), who launders money for many of the world’s terrorist organizations.

When Le Chiffre travels to Casino Royale, MI6 sends Bond to enter the poker tournament to bankrupt his opponent and leaving him open to take whatever deal the British Government is willing to give him. On hand to assist Bond are Vesper Lind (Eva Green), more accountant than agent, and the CIA’s man in Montenegro Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright).

The film differs from many recent entries as the special effects are thrown out in favor of action sequences only. It works quite well, for the most part, but an early sequence at a construction site seems over-the-top and cartoonish, and less believable than Moonraker.

The character is re-molded into a trained killer who has appeal, but has yet to develop the suave and sophisticated facade which he will show to the world. This type of Bond fits Craig perfectly, who I think would be more out of place as the conventional Bond. The film also mixes in quite a few humorous moments, which work very well, to balance this meaner Bond.

In terms of the Bond franchise we do get two Bond girls, Eva Green and Caterino Murino who plays the iconic doomed Bond girl (in the Shirley Eaton mold). We aren’t given a Q however, and the movie lacks the gadgets which have become common place in the series. The film also replaces Baccarat, which was used in the novel, with Texas Hold ‘Em, cashing in on the current popularity of the game.

In terms of negatives, the opening sequence fits the style but seems to be lacking the punch of the usual Bond film (the fact that the title track flounders doesn’t help). The film also has an unbearably long epilogue that takes up the last 20 to 30 minutes of the film (are we sure Peter Jackson didn’t direct?). And most horrendous of all - the film includes a scene of Bond driving a Ford!

Though I would have preferred the series to be relaunched in the Cold War era casting Bond in the world Fleming intended, the film’s choice to start his career works well enough (though it does raise the question who was that guy in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s?). Continuity doesn’t seem to be a major concern and the lack of it, though it does detract, didn’t hurt the character as badly as I feared it might. Craig’s first entry is a good one, though not a classic.

A final note for families: Although the film is rated PG-13 it is a brutal a film to ever be given that rating, and while watching I naturally assumed it was Rated-R. The action and killing scenes are close-up and bloody. I’m not saying kids shouldn’t see the film, but if the main character had be named anything but James Bond I think the chance of this film getting a PG-13 would roughly be the same as Tara Reid and Tom Green winning Oscars the same year.

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