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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale

I can’t help but wonder how many of the talking heads will blather on about the new James Bond’s hair color in the coming week and use the painfully trite “Blond, James Blond” in their comments about the movie. There has been such a fuss for months now about something so trivial that I couldn’t help but want Daniel Craig (Munich) to succeed in the role just to give a big “Up Yours!” to these petty detractors. And guess what? He has every right to do so.

Daniel Craig is by far the best Bond since Sean Connery. He brings a masculine roughness to the role that seems to have faded over the past several years as Bond had become less and less a studly secret agent with a license to kill and more of a suave seducer with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Not to denigrate Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in Die Another Day or Tomorrow Never Dies, but it would be impossible to imagine him doing the
down and dirty tumbling, jumping, fighting, and killing required of the Bond in Casino Royale. He turned James into a bit of a prissy, if you ask me. I know he’d be clucking like a chicken at the first smudge of dirt he saw on his tux. God only knows what he’d do if he had a blood stain to contend with, but I imagine Pierce would be a whole lot more likely to be carrying a StainStick™ in his man–purse than Craig. Actually, I imagine Craig would beat you down if you asked if he even owned a man-purse. You see, this Bond is more of a thug around the edges than any of his previous manifestations, and it suits him just fine.

Barbara Broccoli, daughter of famed Bond Producer, the late Albert “Cubby” Broccoli (who was personally responsible for nearly all of the 21 previous films), has done something remarkable with the series. Essentially she has rebooted the entire saga and taken it from its roots in the 1960s to the present day. Casino Royale reintroduces us to James Bond before he was a “Double O” Agent and sets the story in today’s world rather than in the one
of the Cold War, where much of the tensions of the original Bond films took place. Casino Royale’s focus is broader than one government’s fight against another. This time it is about the MI-6 and its fight against global terrorism. Its first target is Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian; Ararat), who they believe is supplying weapons to terrorists and is working with an unknown source which is planning a scheme that could potentially wipe out millions.

M, the ever dutiful head of the MI-6, is played to perfection by Dame Judy Dench (Notes on a Scandal) for the fifth time. Here she has her doubts about Bond. She considers him too emotional, too “blunt an instrument” and not in control enough for such a delicate maneuver as this case requires, but still she reluctantly bestows the License to Kill on our hero and Bond becomes the famed 007 just in time to begin the body count that will inevitably grow before this investigation is over.

Of course it wouldn’t be Bond without the famed “Bond Girls”, and Casino Royale offers James two leading ladies this time around. Caterina Murino (L’amour aux trousses) plays Solange, the wife of Alex Dimitrios, which, naturally, Bond can’t resist seducing during his preliminary surveillance mission on her husband as they vacation in Nassau, in the Bahamas. His penchant for only becoming involved with married women is revealed early on as a way for us to better understand how James’ mind works. Solange playfully toys with him, deducing that Bond is an orphan who went to Oxford or Cambridge, but on someone else’s money, and that he was often teased because his clothes were not top of the line growing up. Bond denies none of it, but are we to believe this lore is now to be added to the myth of who
Bond is? I have no idea; it does, however, make him seem more human, and herein lies the difference between this Bond and his earlier embodiments. Craig’s Bond is not the superhero of days past. Yes, he has the Aston Martin, and there are a few cool devices installed, but no missile launchers, boat propellers, or oil slick dispensers to use on cartoony villains. This Bond does do some improbably amazing heroic and acrobatic things I’ll grant you, and, yes, the chase scenes are so smoothly choreographed they are downright jaw-dropping, but the best part of this movie is in the acting.

The expansion of M’s role is a delight for fans of Judy Dench and it helps
establish a better long-term rapport between her and Bond. For the past 40 years the character has always stodgily sat behind a desk and been nothing more than a talking head. Now, for the first time, we see that M has a home and a life away from the office. Things haven’t started off well between her and James since his face and story has been plastered in newspapers around the globe for having attacked and killed a bomb-making terrorist in Madagascar while on embassy soil (as the film depicts in its opening minutes). When he takes it upon himself to sneak into her flat to apologize to her personally, greeting her unexpectedly upon her return home from work one night, she is not impressed by his violation of her privacy. Here’s a tip to all of you out there: If you want to impress the boss it is best not to pull a ‘breaking and entering’ as a way of making a positive impact on him or her.

From this point things remain tense between M and Bond, and by the time James has settled in to his hotel in The Bahamas he has had to dispatch a
few hired men unhappy with his quick choice of romantic partner, Dimitrios’ wife. This doesn’t help relations with his boss. Of all the women on the island, M feels that this was one choice she couldn’t appreciate him making. Apparently Dimitrios didn’t appreciate it much either, as Solange doesn’t see the second half of the movie, but it does give M a good excuse to get out of England and catch a little sun while scolding our James over scones and tea by the seashore. It also gives her an excuse to deliver James the next part of the assignment in person.

Because Bond is the agency’s best at cards of all things M recruits him to engage in a high stakes Poker Tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro to play against the man MI-6 believes is the funding source behind Dimitrios. This way Bond can learn what he can about the man, get evidence of his deeds, and arrest him. Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen; Exit) is a perfect Bond villain. He is expertly stylish, way too cool for real life, with cruel eyes and a raging temper bubbling just below the surface at all times. He is hatred personified, and yet he is also as civil as a Vicar at a Baptism.

M is also responsible for lining James up with his second leading lady, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green; Kingdom of Heaven), a ravishing brunette accountant who is definitely unlike any accountant I’ve ever imagined except
perhaps one who might be working at Hugh Hefner’s house. Vesper is assigned by MI-6 to oversee Bond’s use of the ten million dollars they are fronting him to play in the poker tournament. As she points out, if he loses the money their government will be directly funding terrorist activities, a definite no-no they all want to avoid.

Vesper, as you might guess, may seem an “all-work and no-play” type of girl but even she eventually thaws to the charms of a man with a gun as big as Bond’s, and here is where M has cause to worry. She does not like her hired assassins falling in love as James appears to be doing with Vesper. It is better, she counsels, for men like Bond to dispel their emotions altogether. Perhaps she has been watching too many Star Trek reruns or something, but it gives Dame Judy a chance to interfere some more and I think we finally know after all these years that the “M” stands for “Mom.” She has broken free of her office and is following her little Jimmy on the road to give him some motherly advice now and again.

What I loved most about Daniel Craig is that he makes Bond complicated again. He is at odds with himself and his duty. He can be hurt by betrayal and he can get angry when provoked. He is also heart-breakingly sensitive as is shown in one particular scene when he is depicted comforting one character after a brutal attack by would-be assassins. He’s a killer, but a killer with a heart.


One thing definitely struck me as surprising at the screening my husband and I attended over the weekend. The theater was sold out, and at least 90% of those in the audience were either teens or young adults in their 20s and early 30s. How odd. I’d have expected a cavalcade old geezers like myself who actually lived through the theatrical releases of all the Bond adventures and grew old with the various incarnations of the character. It’s nice to see that some things can transcend generational differences. I guess sex and bloodshed will always be popular.

1 comment:

Bahama Claire said...

Let's all just take a moment and thanks jesus for sending us Craig...that said, thank YOU for a great review :)