Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale

Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's first foray as 007, is the perfect example of why I hate using stars to rate movies. If I did, I'd give it three stars, but that wouldn't let me explain what made this a good Bond, but not quite a great one.

So, if you'll bear with me, I'll break it down just a bit.

What's good? Well, certainly most importantly, Craig himself. I've made clear my support for a more polished Bond, perhaps in the form of Clive Owen or Colin Salmon (a black Bond?) But after seeing it, I see that wasn't what they needed to make this work.

This is the very first 007, a brute killer with some of that Bond charm, but still very much a work in progress. And Craig delivers that to perfection, making the transition with ease as we watch. He's taken a lot of crap from people who don't know much about making movies, so I hope he's enjoying this triumph.

And Eva Green, as I expected, fits right into the Bond girl tradition as Vesper Lynd. She has just a hint of the cunning of later 007 damsels, but also an awkwardness that's right for the role. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that she's simply stunning to look at. My only beef with the casting was that they couldn't give the great Jeffrey Wright and Isaach de Bankole more than about three lines each as, respectively, CIA agent Felix Leiter and African warlord Steven Obanno.

The second thing director Martin Campbell got right was the structure. The framing devices, starting with 007's first two kills and ending with him having learned, as M (the always welcome Dame Judi Dench) puts it, to trust no one, just perfectly set up this movie and as many more as they want to make. And there's a fluid movement to what's essentially one very long scene at the casino, where our hero takes on Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a poker game to try and take the money that funds his terrorist operation.

And it wouldn't be Bond without death- and logic-defying action, right? Campbell, who showed he knows how to have fun with the two recent Zorro movies, delivers two set pieces, at the beginning and the end, that are just a pleasure to watch. If there's a better place to set a scene than the Piazza San Marco in Venice, I haven't found it, and Campbell makes full use of it in a great sequence that has Bond sinking a building into the famous canal.

OK, so the wannabe critic in me really liked "Casino Royale," but the popcorn-flick lover that's sparring with him had a few beefs.

First, like John Candy's bumpkin critic on SCTV, I sometimes just like to see stuff get "blowed up." Especially in a Bond movie. More action would have made the 2-1/2 hours go faster with this one.

And second, an entirely shallow but, I think, legitimate complaint about the cheesecake-to-beefcake ratio in this one. It becomes very clear in "Casino Royale" that Daniel Craig worked out a lot for this role. But when, for the second time we see him (instead of Ursula Andress or even Halle Berry) emerging from the ocean in a skimpy bathing suit, it's just overkill.

In Bond movies, we expect 007 to be a suave ladies man, but all I'm asking for here is equal time. This isn't high art. If I have to see Mr. Craig frolic on the beach, couldn't more of it have been with the beautiful Eva Green in an equally skimpy bikini? I mean, I'm not asking for too much here am I?

But, that said, they pulled off a real coup by showing us the birth of Bond and still setting it in the current day. And Craig, if he wants it, has set himself up for a string of 10 Bond movies or so that hopefully will just build on the promise of "Casino Royale."


Jake Mabe said...

As someone who has seen all 20 Bond pictures (and who was extremely disappointed in the last three entries), I must say that I absolutely loved "Casino Royale." This is the best installment since "For Your Eyes Only" (1981). The producers did what traditional 007 fans have wanted for so long --- reel in the fantasy in favor of a realistic, serious storyline that would make Ian Fleming proud. I never thought I'd say this, but Daniel Craig is better than Pierce Brosnan. Simply a fine film. James Bond is back!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on many levels, except that I didn't mind the lack of explosions. Overall, I thought it was a return to the Connery-type films: fashion, babes, cars and brains over braun. Still, you bring up a good point about the cheesecake ratio. A little more Eva Green wouldn't have hurt anyone.

Reel Fanatic said...

I liked the overall classic, Connery-type feel of this one too, Garry, but just a little more action would have made this one perfect for me

Anonymous said...

Given that my best friend is broke this weekend, I wont' get to see Casino Royale until next weekend. At any rate, I think I am looking forward to it more now that it has come out than I was in the months prior. I have yet to read a bad review, which is a good sign.

Reel Fanatic said...

I've seen a few, Mercurie, but they seem to be from people who just delight in being negative ... those in the minority are dead wrong on this one

Anonymous said...

i enjoyed it as well

Anonymous said...

I think, legitimate complaint about the cheesecake-to-beefcake ratio in this one. It becomes very clear in "Casino Royale" that Daniel Craig worked out a lot for this role. But when, for the second time we see him (instead of Ursula Andress or even Halle Berry) emerging from the ocean in a skimpy bathing suit, it's just overkill.
Sold! I'll go see it on Turkey day.

Anonymous said...

You've summed up the picture in a great way. I agree that a little more action would speed up the pacing, which the later 30 minutes needed, but I'll take a little less action for a better storyline and character development. I think it was a good choice to start over and make Bond someone who bleeds and can love.

The last 30 minutes or so could use some editing to tighten up the movie, but considering going into the movie what an uphill battle it was for the producers to make this (Casting the Bond, the studio buyout by Sony, not even casting characters while filming started)I think it shows they grabbed a good storyline and followed through with it. Everyone wanted to hate this movie for various reasons, but in the end it will be a victory for Daniel Craig and the crew for showing they could get it done. I think is shows they have learned from the success of the Jason Bourne series that they need to bring Bond back down to Earth. The last few Bonds have been way too over the top.

One last note, the free running in the beginning blew me away. I'm so glad they chose that for their main, opening action bit.

Reel Fanatic said...

I agree with you that the first big set piece in Madagascar was a dazzling one, drawer2000, but I think I liked the one in Venice even better ... Maybe it's just because I can't think of any other place on Earth I'd rather waste a day away in than the beautiful Piazza San Marco, which they made perfect use of

Dr J said...

Alas, I thought the hype about the movie Much Ado. Craig's fine, though looking like Prince Charles' bitter, fair-haired nephew, and Green's as good as she can be, but it just didn't work for me. Too many plot holes and continuity problems, too many sequences right out of the recent Bond cartoonishness, and frankly too many unintenionally guffaw-inducing bits (the poker game, the Madagascar sequence). I don't know, maybe it's me. I can't remember the last time I didn't get bored with a Bond movie in the early going, and unfortunately Casino Royale was in this way no different than its recent predecessors. *shrug*

Anonymous said...

Perfectly was refreshing to see a different version of Bond from what we saw of Pierce Brosnan..he certainly lacked the crudeness and machoism that is Bond..

This bond is definitely good..


Anonymous said...

Might just have to catch this flick over the weekend. Thanks for the balanced review.

Skunkfeathers said...

Haven't seen it yet either, but based on your review and that done locally by a radio movie reviewer (Reggie McDaniel), it's now on my 'must see' list. McDaniel's sidekick for the review says the Bond films have outlived their usefulness since Sean Connery last played Bond; with the exception of a couple of the 007 flicks that just plain stunk, I couldn't more disagree with that assessment. Sounds like Casino Royale carries it off well, and gives it a future.

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Reel Fanatic said...

To see there hasn't been a good Bond since Connery, skunkfeathers, is liking there hasn't been a good World Series since 1983 (which is, of course, the last time the mighty Orioles managed to win, if I'm not mistaken .. the series has, without a doubt, had its ups and downs, but it looks like its definitely back on top for the moment

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