Friday, February 1, 2013

Casino Royale - One of the Best

Casino Royale - 2006

Bond: Daniel Craig
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Produced by: Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli 
Theme: "You Know My Name" performed by Chris Cornell

How do you take a film series with a tradition bordering on science-fiction and reground it in reality? Start with a sequence in black and white, of course. Strip away all the flashy sizzle, and focus the audiences attention on the people on the screen.

That's just one example of how Casino Royale does just about everything right. Not that it's flawless, mind you. Chris Cornell's theme song isn't going to end up on a lot of "Favorite Bond Songs" lists, but it's no "The Man with the Golden Gun" by Lulu either. Is the plot incredibly complicated? Yes, but so are "real" spy stories, like the novel Casino Royale, which the movie actually follows very closely. 

That's the genius of the film. Not the complicated plot, but the reality of it all. The plot, the characters, the situations, the action, all of it feels like it could really happen. When there's violence, it's realistic, not only in its depiction, but in its aftermath. There are real consequences and real emotional reactions. If you doubt that, just watch the Eva Green shower scene to know what I mean.

Bond, as a character, has depth. He's inexperienced and vulnerable, but supremely confident. He's a "blunt instrument", as M calls him, but he's also extremely intelligent. He just escapes into the blunt instrument by necessity. When he gets poisoned, he doesn't magically come up with an antidote. He makes himself vomit in the bathroom and has to defibrillate himself. Because that's what he'd do. Then there's the torture scene, which is also lifted almost directly from the book. He's naked. He's getting tortured. He shows us he's in pain, but he also keeps his confident, arrogant humor. It's brilliant.

I'll admit, I was skeptical of the casting of Daniel Craig. He's blond. I'd never heard of him. At the time, it seemed like an odd choice, but it certainly turned out to be an inspired one. Connery was the perfect Bond for the 60s, rugged and manly. Moore was the perfect Bond for the 70s, suave and cartoonish. They never quite got it right in the 80s. Brosnan was the perfect Bond to revive the series in the 90s, manly and self-aware. Craig was the perfect choice to reboot the series in the 00s, manly and real. He's also, by far, the best actor of the bunch. People like to think of Dalton as being the best actor, but give that man a piece of furniture and he'd chew on it till the cows came home. 

Casino Royale also plays brilliantly with concept of status. People's statuses and their status relationships are constantly getting flipped in this movie. M is Bond's boss. She has status over him. When she's mad at him for killing the bomb-maker on embassy grounds, he flips her status to gain an advantage. How? He breaks into her home to meet her, where she's not his boss, but a normal person. In doing so he proves that he's really good at what he does and is able to keep her on his side. (SKYFALL SPOILER ALERT: I also like the symmetry of their first screen time together being at her home and their final screen time together being at his.)

Vesper starts out with a higher status than Bond. She controls the money and disdains what he does. By the end that's reversed. Bond gets money from the CIA, and she sees the reality of the dangers Bond faces. Even our villain, Le Chiffre gets his status upended, twice. First by the warlords who come to collect their money, and then by Mr. White. It's always fun to see villains helpless against their own enemies.

And I haven't even mentioned how visibly stunning the action sequences are, or Bond's romantic entanglements, or how I always forget that so little of the movie actually takes place during the card game, or how awesome it is that "Bond, James Bond" comes at the end, or... I actually watched the movie almost two weeks ago, but I was so immersed in the experience of watching it, I almost forgot to write about it. It's just that damned good.

Personal Rankings: It is only out of respect for the early years of the franchise that Casino Royale does not go straight to #1. 
  1. Goldfinger
  2. From Russia With Love
  3. Casino Royale
  4. The Spy Who Loved Me
  5. Live and Let Die
  6. You Only Live Twice
  7. Tomorrow Never Dies
  8. GoldenEye
  9. The Living Daylights
  10. For Your Eyes Only
  11. The World Is Not Enough
  12. Dr. No
  13. Octopussy
  14. Diamonds Are Forever
  15. A View to a Kill
  16. License to Kill
  17. Thunderball
  18. Die Another Day
  19. The Man with the Golden Gun
  20. Moonraker

2006 Context

President: George W. Bush
Queen: Elizabeth II

Montenegro, the location of Casino Royale in the film, declares independence from Serbia.

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