Friday, June 26, 2009

56. Casino Royale



Casino Royale (2006)
Directed by Martin Campbell


Casino Royale not only rebooted the Bond series in 2006, but saved it from irrelevancy in a post Bourne action world. With a fresh reboot came changes; a fresh face in the Bond role (from Pierce Brosnan to Daniel Craig), an old face to the director’s chair (Martin Campbell directed Goldeneye), and some pedigree to the script crew (Oscar winner Paul Haggis helped to write). Tinkering with the Bond formula and adapting it to new times could’ve easily led to disaster just like Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns from the same year. Fortunately for Bond fans, Casino Royale is a great success and for my money, it’s the best Bond film of them all.

The seeds for a reboot were sown in 2002 when Die Another Day, the most recent Bond film, was released to good box office returns but strong negative reaction. Besides the negative reception, there began a shift in action styles that can be traced to the 2002 release of The Bourne Identity. Although Identity wasn’t initially received as influential (like The Matrix was within months of its release), the quick and practical style of action was adopted gradually over the years until it became the standard for serious action films. Identity’s follow-up, 2004’s Bourne Supremacy, cemented Bourne’s influence on action films.

By the time the Bond producers were able to move forward with another film, the tastes of audiences, which had been changing since 2002, had become permanent and a reboot was necessary. The change in tone is noticeable right from the beginning. Where Die Another Day opened with a grandiose hovercraft chase in North Korea, Casino Royale opens with a stark black and white sequence where our new Bond earns his “007” status through two brutal murders. It’s brilliant sequence that leads directly into a superlative chase through a construction site.

Breathlessly shot with an incredible eye for coherence, it’s an awesome mixture of the brute and practical action of the Bourne series, but with the grandiose set pieces of the Bond series. Throw in a helping of parkour (urban free running) and Bond is no longer a relic of a bygone era, but he’s current and he’s setting new standards. From here the action and pace barely let up as Bond whisks away to Miami for another intense and suspenseful chase scene. In fact, for nearly the first hour or so, the movie never lets up; its one of the most enjoyable and brutal hours in all of cinema.

After Miami, Casino Royale settles in for its second act, spent mostly in a beautiful hotel playing poker and it’s here that the movie puts plot and character development into high gear. Vesper Lind, played by a gorgeous Eva Green, is a great match for Bond and their relationship, while still retaining the Bond jokiness, is quite intelligent and layered. How the filmmakers approached Bond and Vesper’s relationship is typical of how they handled all the other Bond elements as well.

The usual formula is retained, but they are grounded in a reasonable environment and treated as realistic. Thus, we get a villain who has blood come from his tear ducts, but is still every bit as believable as a villain in a typical crime drama. Bonds' puns and one-liners are present, but they are kept to a minimum and generally feel like a natural part of the scene.

Probably the biggest and best change to the series was an actual desire to examine Bond as a character. Casino Royale examines Bond in much in the same way that Batman Begins examines the literal as well as the thematic and motivational beginnings of the Batman character. We witness Bond gain his ‘007’ status, as well as discover how he develops his cold personality towards women. It’s not until the very end of the film that we have witnessed a fully developed ‘James Bond’, and it’s not until then that the audience is allowed the catch phrase, “Bond. James Bond”. Excellent.

I do have a few nitpicks about the film. The pacing of the film is a major problem for me. While the first hour really is excellent, it also creates unevenness to the whole movie. For after watching an entire hour of action, we don't get another real action set piece until the final scene of the film, almost a whole hour and fifteen minutes later. The second gripe is that the action finale is nowhere near as exciting or accomplished as anything seen in the first act and it makes it a little anti-climactic for me. Outside of that, Casino Royale is an action masterpiece and an essential addition to my collection.
P.S. The promotional material for this film is some of my favorite. Below is the excellent teaser trailer and "You Know My Name" is my all-time favorite Bond song and opening sequence as well


1 comments:

8rent said...

I just watched this, and there is a split-second cameo by Richard Branson getting inspected in the Miami airport. Lo and behold, the only airline logo with major screen time? Virgin Atlantic.

The only way I picked up on this was that I saw Branson on C-Span the other night. Don't ask why I was watching C-Span.

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