casino royale

25 01 2007

Daniel Craig. Mads Mikkelsen.  Eva Green
dir. Martin Campbell 2006

The hype may have it that this is a complete departure from Bond series style, tone and lore, but it’s not as far removed from the Bond heritage as you may have heard: just a bit beefier, louder – and seemingly longer. The free-running sequence is the Goldeneye grab-you-by-the-tits-in-the-first-ten-minutes dam jump ramped up to 11, with the ensuing embassy shoot-out a retread of the sequence in which Pierce Brosnan escaped his Russian interrogators. Royale also shares with Goldeneye a knowing cameo from a ‘60s Aston Martin. Unsurprising perhaps when you consider that both films were helmed by Martin Campbell.

There’s the standard deformed villain, sumptuous global locations, and a (continuity-bending) appearance from M. There’s no Q, but there are plenty of gadgets.

And a couple of girls. However, Bond doesn’t actually do the deed with any of them, even running out on one mid-clinch to chase a potential lead. She asks him if he is with her to get at her husband, suggesting the erotic and sadistic fascination the men of Bond’s world have with each other – witness the infamous testicular torture scene. The women are mere props (Bond tries to distract Le Chiffre by getting Vesper to dress up and make an entrance) and possessions (Bond takes Dimitrios’ trophy wife just like he takes his trophy car).

The plot (Bond, slightly extracurricular, falls in love while executing a plot to bring down a supervillain who is himself operating outside the usual destroy-the-world remit) is closest to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but then that film is unfairly maligned because of the presence of George Lazenby and is actually rather good.

In fact, for my money, the best of the Bonds are those that depart from the Goldfinger formula and actually have a plot: From Russia With Love, OHMSS, and For Your Eyes Only.

Strangely, Royale also borrows from some of the weaker elements of Bond’s past. The ‘world’s biggest airliner’ is pure Spy Who Loved Me/Moonraker bombast – which is strange, as Bond was at his worst when operating in the States/in the 70s and 80s.

But there’s no Moore-style karate chops; Craig’s pumped-up body is the ‘blunt instrument’ M refers to: when a free runner leaps gracefully through a tiny gap, Bond smashes squarely through the wall.

Royale certainly keeps you guessing by departing from the standard action/espionage plot beats, although the impact of the false ending is blunted by the fact that the film has already been on too long.

The poisoning scene is totally superfluous; it provides a nice glimpse into MI6 procedure but that’s what DVD bonus footage was invented for. In fact every scene involving Bond’s car, pretty as it is, could have gone (it sits in the Casino car park most of the time).

Bond spends far too much time pursuing Dimitrios and what on earth is the bit in the BodyWorks exhibition about?

The charismatic bombmakers deserve far more attention than the slimy Dimitrios and the cardboard cut-out African warlords; their machete/stairwell fight, while claustrophobic (ie Bourne-influenced) can’t match the intensity or invention of the earlier scraps with the bombmakers.

Finally, the filmmakers don’t seem to know what to do with the final twist: an attempt to shoehorn in the novel’s devastating final line only throws it away, in a Venice-set coda that feels more forced than tour de force.

Betrayal is expected in this kind of film, but softening the betrayer’s motivation doesn’t make much sense – Bond’s climactic transformation into armour-plated killing machine is blunted. And what happened to the boyfriend?

This final reel cop-out is a bit of a let-down when the film had thus far done a good job of evoking the world of espionage as a tapestry of shifting allegiances and hidden agendas. M manipulates Bond rather than directly ordering him about; even in MI5 agents have a degree of independence and ambiguity of motive that harks back to the days of Fleming, LeCarre and Deighton, and seems lacking from the cardboard cut-out motivation of contemporary (ie American) spy flicks.




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