24 September 2012

BlogalongaBond- CASINO ROYALE Review

Back when all of this began, when I still thought that Connery didn't have a bad Bond movie to his name, and I knew that Dalton was great in the role, but didn't realise how great he really was, I admitted that Casino Royale was not just my favourite Bond film, but one of my favourite films of all time. As a result of following the rules of BlogalongaBond, I've held off rewatching this for almost two years, and now finally, we're here.

Although I've actually covered many reboots in the course of this marathon, Daniel Craig signals the first outright version of James Bond's origins, as he's first promoted to 00 status, and secondly faces off against a private banker, Le Chiffre. A hedge fund for terrorists is up for grabs in a high-stakes poker game at the titular casino in Montenegro, and MI5 sends in Bond, their best player, to clean out Le Chiffre and bring him in for information. Along the way, he's teamed with Vesper Lynd, a beautiful Treasury agent who begins to make Bond think twice about the life he has chosen.

It's funny how many times, in the six years that this has come out, that people I know have claimed that this isn't really a Bond film. My dad, who grew up watching Sean Connery and Roger Moore, called no deal when it didn't open with the gunbarrel sequence, despite the homage right before Daniel Kleinman's superb opening titles. From his other niggles with the film, it seems that he don't really see it as a Bond film, because it's so very removed from the intertextuality of the previous 20 instalments. It's odd, really, because by inverting that structure, the film is like an Eric Morecambe version of a Bond movie- hitting all the right expectations, but not necessarily in the right order.

For instance, it starts out by establishing that Daniel Craig is more than capable of the rough and tumble stuff- the first 45 minutes or so, from the noirish B&W opening, through the then-obligatory but no less spectacular parkour chase, right up to the seduction of Solange and the chase at Miami airport, Craig barely stops for air. Some have criticised the film for being front-loaded in this way, given that an extended sequence of sitting down and playing cards follows on, but that's the film's masterstroke. It earns the right to develop Bond as a character by insuring his portrayal with the action stuff that the general audience came to see early on.

There are actually far more hallmarks of Bond's character in the latter half of the film- he's something of a gambler, and we see him inventing his drink of choice- and it's tempered by the sense that he's not yet the Bond we know. He makes mistakes like any of the previous incarnations did, but shrugs them off with far less ease than we've previously seen- look at the scene where he tries to assassinate Le Chiffre, after crashing and burning out of the game. It's a superb performance from Craig, aware of the character and the legacy without ever resorting to the "greatest hits" homunculoid performance that Pierce Brosnan affected on his debut. Such a performance might only have satisfied all the mooing "Craig Not Bond"-ers, but Craig gives us better than that.

It's not all on his shoulders though- the surrounding characters have to work too. Although Judi Dench's return as M is something of a universe-imploding continuity confusion, her rapport with this Bond is superb, and Mads Mikkelson's portrayal of a sinister and pathetic Le Chiffre makes for a fine, traditionally gruesome Bond baddy. It should go without saying though, that Eva Green almost steals the show as Vesper Lynd. As the best ever Bond girl, full stop, she's sexy, clever and more than likely to steal Bond's heart away from a life of murder and solitude. The ending, far more acclaimed in its time than the similar ending of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, is genuinely moving because Craig and Green are so electric together beforehand.

In its own way, it's more romantic than any of the other Bond movies, but also much harder. As mentioned in other reviews from this month, the iconic image of the film is not of Bond holding a gun aloft, or one of Chris Corbauld's hugely impressive stunts, but of Bond and Vesper, huddled together in a shower, still clothed, rattled by the death they have just witnessed. By contrast, and just to complete my appraisal of the film's ingenious structure, there's a reason why the film closes on the shootout in the collapsing building- look at how Bond, for the first time in the film, is killing off flunkies without blinking, angry and scorned by the woman he loves. It's not just a climactic action sequence, but a crucial step towards the colder Bond we know.

Just like Bond and Vesper in the shower scene, Casino Royale feels rattled by death, but it's also capable of spectacular action sequences and heart-wrenching romance. After the embarrassment of Die Another Day, here's a film that brings Bond into the 21st century by embracing more of his roots than it disregards- it's back to breaking ground in practically-mounted action sequences, with Craig erring almost as close to Bond on the page as Dalton did, and with a more wry humour than the bawdy antics of yesteryear. And if that weren't enough, it also has one of the coolest endings to any movie ever. Martin Campbell resuscitated Bond once before, with GoldenEye, but Casino Royale is his masterpiece.

#21- Le Chiffre has an unfortunate tendency to say he has more friends than he has in reality. This is especially unfortunate for Mathis.

For a full list of everyone's work on BlogalongaBond so far, click here.

The Mad Prophet Will Return, With Quantum of Solace... in October.

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