November 20, 2006

Casino Royale/New James Bond Primer

A primer on James Bond that I co-wrote with Walt Opie is now up on GreenCine. Some (well, many) would say I got stuck with the bum half of the franchise's history - writing about the more recent films - but it was still a kick to, for the first time, revisit those in an analytical frame of mind.

Bond2 Meanwhile, seeing the latest incarnation of James Bond, Casino Royale, on the heels of watching all these other recent 007 films made it easier to see clearly how superior it is to most of them.

I do hope that any of those who carped ad nauseum about the casting of Daniel Craig - "he's a blonde!" (gasp!) - are quieted within ten minutes into the film. Craig's a fine actor - Layer Cake in particular must have put him in the sights of the Bond casting agents - and here he manages to give Bond both humanity, vulnerability and prone to paroxysms of violence. With his imperfect but appealing features (and also a chiseled physique that the filmmakers show off several occasions), Craig holds sway in every moment he's on screen.

The film starts with an incredible - in both senses of the word - chase sequence that reveal Craig's Bond as one capable of making the occasional tactical error, and also as one who can keep up with a ridiculously agile criminal (they both manage to jump, run and climb impossibly). It's an unforgettable scene and the film offers quite a few other spasms of violent action, but unlike many of the other Bond films in which the quiet moments - either romantic or character-revealing - make us want to cringe or head to the snack bar, in Casino Royale these scenes, too, hold our attention. Judi Dench, returning as M, finally has a great actor to play off of and her scenes with Craig have a dramatic zing rare for the series, and striking actress Eva Green (with mesmerizing eyes that match her name), takes  a "Bond girl" to near tragic levels and her scenes, too, with Craig have sparkle. Some credit should go to the script, above average for a Bond film, by Bond regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, along with Oscar-winner Paul Haggis, as it deftly takes the franchise in new directions while also referencing with sly one-liners the franchise's previous history. Mads Mikkelsen, a highly regarded actor in his native Denmark (check him out in the Pusher trilogy), makes for a creepy enough villain (his glassy eye and its tears of blood are a memorable touch); the torture scene between he and Bond is a memorable, even funny, bit of sadistic interplay.

If the film suffers from the same overlength tendency and complicatted plotting that characterizes most of the more recent era Bonds, and if it seems a little laughable that Bond would so swiftly declare his love for Eva Green's Vesper, the film overall is hard to rag on. The pacing is better than most recent Bond efforts, and the very ending is perfect.

All in all, Casino Royale admirably earns its way as a great action film - not just as another Bond. -- Craig Phillips

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Posted by cphillips at November 20, 2006 9:56 AM