Click here to return to the Shaking Through Home Page

 

  Shaking Through.net WWW

 

 Archive Home | Movies | Music | Books | Comics | Editorial

 
   

Movie Archives: Most Recent | Highest Rated | Alphabetical

Nobody Does It Better

 

Casino Royale

Martin Campbell, UK/USA, 2006

Rating: 4.4

 

Posted: November 19, 2006

By Kevin Forest Moreau

If it's true that each era gets the James Bond it deserves, what does it say about us as a society than only four short years ago, we apparently deserved a Bond who zipped around in an invisible car, battled an evil megalomaniac in a fortress of ice and couldn't find the discipline to make love to Halle Berry without indulging in raunchy, ill-conceived one-liners?

And what does it say about us in 2006 that the Bond we deserve now is a brutal fireplug of a man who relies on his gut instincts and his hands instead of high-tech gadgets, who gets his hands dirty with the blood of his enemies when he dispatches them in the name of Queen and Country?

That's a tough question, but boy, have we ever gotten the Bond we deserve -- not to mention need. Daniel Craig, the blond, preternaturally blue-eyed proto-Bond of Casino Royale, may not have been the first choice of diehard Bond film fanatics, who howled with rage about his casting on the Internet. He probably wouldn't have been Ian Fleming's first choice, either, anymore than Sean Connery was. But sometimes fictional characters take on a life of their own, one that their creators couldn't (or wouldn't) have envisioned.

Fleming certainly couldn't have envisioned this Casino Royale, based (however loosely) on his very first James Bond novel. Yes, some of the signature elements of the Bond film series remain: the lavish visuals of the title sequence; a score that incorporates echoes of the pop-music theme song, sung by Chris Cornell, which sounds better in a movie theater than it does as a radio single; and the far-flung locales. But it recasts the series in a different light, updated for the world we live in, shorn of the frivolity and gimmickry that gradually overwhelmed the series and turned it into an ongoing exercise in camp.

This Royale still pits Bond in a card game against a shadowy terrorist (played with pretty-boy coldness by Mads Mikkelsen), but now it's Texas Hold 'Em instead of the more gentlemanly baccarat. After a fairly easy-to-follow first half in which Bond follows a trail of killers to Le Chiffre, a banker for international terrorists, he sits down to a high-stakes game with the intention of bankrupting his smug foe, who has a habit of crying tears of blood. So far, so familiar.

There's also a Bond Girl, of course: Accountant Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), accompanying him to keep an eye on the British government's money. Vesper's one of the rare romantic foils who provides more than mere window dressing; like countless women before her, she of course slowly succumbs to Bond's charms (how can she resist, once he tenderly sucks her fingers when they're both coming down from the exhilaration and horror of a narrow escape from death?). But despite her remote beauty, she's a woman we can see him actually falling for (a couple of shots of her fantastic cleavage don't hurt) -- even though we know it can't end well, or else Bond wouldn't be Bond, would he?

Chief among the movie's updates, of course, is Craig himself, who carries the film on his broad, perfectly sculpted shoulders. As great as Pierce Brosnan was at splitting the difference between Connery's masculine viciousness and Roger Moore's oily smoothness, his debonair Bond just wasn't right for these post-Sept. 11 times. In this up-to-the-minute, present-day reworking of the James Bond legend -- call it Bond Begins -- Craig's Agent 007, who's only just earned his license to kill, is a tightly wound live wire, raw around the edges -- his first kill, in the film's startling opening sequence, is a messy, visceral brawl. In short, he's barely in control of his darkest urges. This Bond looks just as good in a tux, in his own way, as Brosnan's, but you know immediately that unlike Brosnan, he wasn't born to model dinnerwear -- he was shaped by circumstance (including a rough-and-tumble life as an orphan, as Vesper hypothesizes) into exactly the kind of man who'd choose to become a killing machine for his country.

Anyone who's seen the first twenty minutes of Goldfinger knows that James Bond is an impetuous rake who allows his libido and his ego to place him in costly situations he could easily have avoided, often unnecessarily putting others at risk. On that score, Craig's Bond is as rash as they come, and Royale earns serious points for acknowledging his hotheaded behavior beyond the tame "tsk-tsks" his superior M's given him over the years. (Judi Dench's assumption of that role, with her stern, take-no-bullshit authority, is the best thing that's happened to the franchise in more than a decade -- at least until now.)

In the film's first big action sequence, Bond pursues a wily bomb-maker (Parkour runner Sebastien Foucan) into an embassy in Madagascar, wantonly making a mess of things and firing at embassy soldiers who get in his way -- before killing his target in a fit of pique. Later, he breaks cover, letting his quarry know his real name in a bit of psychological warfare. When he's lost a crucial hand to Le Chiffre, he even goes stalking after his foe in full view of everyone in the casino, armed only with a dinner knife, until cooler heads prevail. And he nicks M's login and password to track down the bad guys on MI6's server while he's supposed to be cooling his heels in a grown-up version of time-out.

Craig's Bond frequently acts on his most reckless, foolish impulses, and rather than letting him smooth things over with a cocked eyebrow and a quip, Casino Royale shows us the consequences of those actions. It also shows us a glimpse of the steel that has to lurk beneath (as when he stoically endures some harrowing torture applied to his privates), and, most importantly, the circumstances that explain the kind of man he seems destined to become: distrustful, detached, a glib tongue and a randy eye his only armor against a cruel world.

Casino Royale tacitly acknowledges what we've always known, deep down, but ignored in order to enjoy the ride: James Bond is a bit of an asshole. He treats women as "disposable pleasures," he disregards the rules and he operates on an ends-justifies-the-means mentality. And he has to be, to do the job he does. It's to the film's considerable credit that Royale makes us care for him in spite of this -- not because we're charmed by his aloof puns, but because we sympathize with what he's lost and recognize in him the beast within all of us.

Most everyone universally acknowledges Connery as the quintessential Bond, but even he wouldn't quite jibe in the world as we know it today. In 1006, it's hard to imagine a better 007 than Daniel Craig gives us in Casino Royale -- a Bond we can believe in and root for, instead of just smirking at his increasingly lame wisecracks and wish-fulfillment sexual conquests. In this world, in this movie, nobody does it better. And it's about damn time.

Site design copyright 2001-2011 Shaking Through.net. All original artwork, photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking Through.net is strictly forbidden.

 

   
 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
Archived Reviews

Most Recent

Highest Rated

Alphabetical

Features

Best Of Lists: All | 2005

Oscar Picks: 2006

Clemenza's Corner