IMDB #235 Casino Royale

Plugging right along with the relaunch of the James Bond franchise, Casino Royale, at number 235. A confession: while I’m up to date on all of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies (which started out on a decent foot with Goldeneye and spiraled progressively downward), I’ve only seen one other previous Bond movie in its entirety: Connery’s You Only Live Twice. This makes me not the best Bond scholar, but also more receptive to the blond-haired, blue-eyed, visceral direction in which they’ve taken the franchise.

The Key Players:

Martin Campbell, director of Goldeneye as well as the relaunch of another film icon (The Mask Of Zorro), came back to direct this new adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. He works with a screenplay by duo Neil Purvis and Robert Wade (who worked on The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day), as well as Paul Haggis (a double Oscar winner for Crash (boo!)).

Given the track records of the men above, and no offense to them, but it’s hard not to ascribe the new look and tone of Casino Royale to Daniel Craig’s steely performance as a 007 just earning his stripes. Selected to much die-hard consternation after an epic search that spawned countless oh-he-would-be-awesome!-type rumors (my favorite was Clive Owen), Craig put in ample badass practice in Layer Cake, amidst some character work in Infamous and Munich before taking the super-spy mantle.

Eva Green puts most other Bond girls to shame as agent of the Treasury Vesper Lynd, Bond’s first love. Jeffrey Wright plays his wise-cracking American CIA counterpart, Judi Dench returns as M, Mads Mikkelson plays the bad guy, various other people play various other things, but are we really that concerned? It’s all about being cool.



The Story:

We open with the brief story of how James Bond earned 00 status, which apparently takes two kills. The first is a messy brawl with an enemy operative in a restroom (which Craig plays with some great vulnerability), the second is a showdown with the fellow agent that had been selling the first guy information. Both scenes are in super-noirish black and white, and the messy up-close and personal first kill is in stark contrast to the gentlemanly clean hit of the second. Bond, it would seem, got his legs fast. Cue title sequence!

Then Bond chases a parkour-mad bomb-maker through Madagascar, before being forced to kill him in a public embassy. Turns out the guy was on the hook from Le Chiffre (Mikkleson) to blow up a plane in Miami, and cause the plummeting of the airline’s stock, which Le Chiffre had “shorted” with an African warlord’s $100 million.

This involves buying a “put option” on the stock of the company, which I think entails the following: Le Chiffre pays $100 million for an option to buy an equal number of shares of Skynet (the plane-makers) and sell it at the current price, within a certain timeframe. The key is that he gets to sell the stock at the present value no matter what happens to the stock in the meantime. Thus, his plan is 1) Buy put option. 2) Blow up plane, causing Skynet stock to plummet to nothing. 3)Buy the shares for nothing, and sell them at pre-explosion price, essetntially doubling his investment. I think.

Instead, Bond stops the replacement demolitions expert assigned to bomb said plane in the nick of time, and Le Chiffre loses everything. He then organizes a high stakes poker game at the titular Casino Royale in Monte Carlo to get his money back. M sends Bond to play to keep Le Chiffre in debt to his superiors, so they can offer him sanctuary in return for information.

Vesper Lynd (Green), of course, tags along as an agent of the treasury to keep an eye on the $10 Million stake he’ll be playing with, and to charm our hero mostly by being not terribly impressed with him at first. Then it’s high-stakes Texas hold ‘em time, as Bond survives African thuggery, attempted poisioning, and burgeoning love while trying his hand at cards. Guess what? He totally wins!

But wait! Is MI6 agent in Monte Carlo Rene Mathis what he seems? Is Vesper Lynd for that matter? And why is Bond naked and tied to a chair? Mystery and excitement!

The Artisticness:

I was thinking, after recently watching the direct sequel to Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace, that the biggest difference between the new Bond and the old Bond is this: I’d watch Brosnan and think “I could do that. You just wear suits, drink martinis, seduce women and use gadgets to do all the dirty work.” It seems like a simple job, really. But I could not do what Daniel Craig does. He crashes into the arms of cranes in mid-air, gets tortured, crashes his spiffy Aston Martin, and has to be defibrillated back to life after poisoning. Not for me.

Some people have accused the new films of emulating the Bourne series a bit too much, but I don’t think so: Craig still goes after the ladies, looks good in suits, and orders fancy drinks. It’s just that there isn’t a wink and a smile anymore- Craig is all business (especially in the new movie), and if he has to be an ultra-suave badass to accomplish his assignment, then so be it.

The first Bond girl we encounter, the girlfriend of a middleman thug, he pursues only long enough to get what he’s looking for, and leaves before getting to any hanky-panky to fly to Miami.

The performances are mostly stellar beyond Craig as well: Green is as smirk-faced and icy as Craig, and Judi Dench especially hits some great notes in her brief scenes. I enjoy Jeffrey Wright’s frank CIA Agent Felix Leiter as well, despite his dialogue being a little to snappishly American (“I’m bleeding chips, not gonna last much longer.”)

Mads Mikkelson isn’t terribly memorable as the stereotypical stone-faced villain (who cries blood!), but Jesper Christenson is menacing as a mysterious man-behind-the-scenes.

THE ENDING! FACTS WITH A LICENSE TO SPOIL!

Where were we? Oh yeah, Bond wins the card game, but then fellow agent Mathis apparently sells him and Vesper out to Le Chiffre, and he’s captured and tortured for the password to access the poker winnings. But then, Le Chiffre’s debtors show up and kill everyone except our hero and his lady love. Bond and Vesper then deepen their relationship while recuperating (Bond was, uh, manhandled a bit while in captivity), Mathis is tasered and taken away. Cue happy ending!

Or.. not? Vesper it turns out, is trying to make off with the winnings in Venice along with some mysterious men with guns. Bond gives pursuit and sinks an entire building into the canal, ultimately trapping Vesper in a submerged elevator shaft. She sadly pushes him away as he tries to rescue her, and drowns in shame at her betrayal.

It turns out she had been a rogue agent the whole time, working with the very shadow organization that brokered the Le Chiffre deal to get the money for themselves. Or was she? M tells Bond that Vesper was being blackmailed to save the life of a boyfriend, but Bond –perhaps in dismissal of that theory and perhaps in anger at being the “other man”- simply says “The bitch is dead,” with cold-hearted disdain, and pledges to move on.

Then he tracks down the mysterious guy (Christensen), shoots him in the leg, and finally goes “The name’s Bond. James Bond.” Cue theme music!

END SPOILERS

Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Higher, ya’ll. Definitely higher. I can watch this film back to back if I’m bored enough, and I actually thought the new one was far too short, compared to Casino Royale’s running time.

I definitely need to catch up on my Bond to call it the best in the series, but it blows what I’ve seen away.

The Legacy:

It holds the temporary title of highest grossing Bond ever before Quantum Of Solace likely usurps it in the coming weeks, and it was the first to inspire a direct sequel.

Otherwise, it hasn’t been quite long enough to gage. Though whenever my friend Dave is even slightly drunk he says he feels like the scene right after Bond gets poisoned and stumbles through the Casino in bleary-vision.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

The chase scene after the titles is pretty epic, and actually co-stars Sebastian Foucan, one of parkour's founding fathers. It's not only awesome to watch, but leads to hilarious moments of contrasting styles, when Foucan acrobatically flips through a gap in an unfinished building to while running away, only yo have Craig just bust through the dry-wall to keep up with him.



Leftover Thoughts:

Forgot to mention the awesome credit sequence with a song by Chris Cornell and David Arnold (who composed the score) that incorporates the Bond motif from the film score better than any other title song I’ve seen. Plus the animation focuses mostly on casino-themed shadow characters fighting, not suggestively-posed women, which really gets tacky after the first thirty seconds.

Dave had a Vesper Martini once, and it was crazy bitter. But it was also made at theater with wooden seats in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and served in a plastic cup, so it might not be the best measure of the drink’s viability.

“How was your lamb?” “Skewered. One sympathizes.”

I really wish the moment when Bond has to veer off the road and ruin his car wasn't spoiled in the trailer, because it would have been an awesome moment in the theater.

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