Monday, December 11, 2006

Casino Royale (2006)

Even as event movies go, James Bond is one of those rare beasts: a franchise that seems to transcend audiences, appealing to many different types of cinema-goer. The old cliche of 'men wanting to be him and women wanting to be with him' is probably the easiest mental shortcut to make when thinking of double o'seven's appeal to a global audience. But Bond has been rather in the doldrums of late, even if the box office hasn't reflected the dip in quality of the franchise since 'Tomorrow Never Dies'.

And so with the event of this new Bond movie comes the added audience giddiness provided by a new James Bond. There can hardly be many ways of mainlining yourself more rapidly into the global cultural mainstream than by reprising the role of Mr. Bond. You know all their names, I'm sure, even if the names of other Timothy Dalton or George Lazenby movies don't spring to mind all that readily...

If you have read some of my other reviews on this site, you'll know I was happy with Daniel Craig's appointment as Bond after seeing Munich. However, I hadn't been interested in the Bond franchise at all since that one with Teri Hatcher.. even Halle Berry's presence just seemed to make Pierce Brosnan descend into hammy double entendre, and when Madonna was given a guest starring role in Die Another Day, well.. let's call it a bit of a low point for double o'seven.

I'm happy to say that this Bond is definitely different from Pierce Brosnan's outings. Paul Haggis - who also wrote the po-faced 'Crash' - was drafted into the writing team on Casino Royale, and the result of his influence is a script full of character, nuance and intelligence. Whether this is what the Bond faithful really want is another thing, but there is also plenty of crash bang wallop for the entry fee. Two memorable action set-pieces book-end the movie, and both are really high-octane episodes, and memorable for their originality. However, between these set pieces, there's.. well, Bond's budding relationship with Versper Lynd is developed, and after many flirty sparring sessions of wordsmithery between the two, we learn much about both. And this is what makes this Bond so different. Rather than presuming we know Bond, we are actually introduced to him in Casino Royale. Daniel Craig screams in pain in Casino Royale. He falls in love, he bleeds, he sweats and yes, he almost cries near the end... Sean Connery wouldn't have been caught bloody dead in this one, I can tell you!

There's a high-stakes poker game involved as the centrepiece of Casino Royale, and plenty of assorted unpleasantness for Bond to deal with in between hands while he tries to outwit the deeply unwholesome 'Le Chiffre', played with cold repulsiveness by Mads Mikkelsen.

The ambition appears to be to make Bond more real, someone audiences can relate to, and in my opinion, Daniel Craig's performance is strong enough to achieve this. His intimate moments with Vesper are as watchable as his assorted action sequences, where he regularly gets bruised and battered, but overall he should remove all doubt that he is a more than capable Bond.

The gadgets are numerous and integrate well with the story, even if there is no 'Q'.. or 'R'. (Still not sure about that whole John Cleese episode either..) And the cars, well they gradually improve throughout the flick, and by the end, Bond is driving a rather nice Aston Martin DB9 which will provide a pleasant distraction for all the blokes in the audience while some of the boring chick flick bits are going on!

More importantly than simply being a good movie in its own right though, Casino Royale has, for me, re-invented the Bond franchise. As Casino Royale ends, we're left with little doubt that Daniel Craig's Bond is meaner than the one we met at the start of the picture, and you get the impression that next time round, we'll have a very different movie as a result. Roll on Bond 22 but if the Bond producers are reading, dudes, you gotta make it shorter! Two and a half hours of any Bond is too much... unless it's Thunderball, then it's ok! Oh, and if you're still listening, Quentin Tarantino's available to direct...

Verdict: Bond, but not as you know it.. a solid reboot for a previously tired franchise.
Rating: 7/10


Peter said...

Best thing about this one was the opening credits and the rather intriguing inclusion of Chris Cornell to sing the title theme "You Know My Name." Best Bond song in years though I would be biased...

Paddy C said...

Pretty harsh! I thought this one was well above average. Definitely the best Bond in a long time.

... I did really enjoy the Chris Cornell song though.. and as an aside, one of the best things about 'Miami Vice' was the few Audioslave songs on the soundtrack

Anonymous said...

yeah not one for normally geting away from the subject in question but Revelations is a quality album, aint seen Miami Vice .

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