Monday, December 11, 2006

Movie Review: Casino Royale (no spoilers)

This re-invention of the James Bond franchise is exactly what the series needed. A good movie in its own right, and for a James Bond movie it was perfect.

There seems to be a consensus among critics that this is the best Bond movie since the 60s, and that Craig is the best Bond since Connery. The consensus is too nostalgic...this is clearly the highest that the Bond franchise has ever reached. This movie was cleverly written, well-acted, and provided the most in-depth characterization of 007 ever.

This is a Bond who makes mistakes, who is outwitted by his enemies (and his female foil), who screams in pains and bleeds. He is pushed to his limits in order to triumph, and doesn't always remain calm and composed enough to deliver a one-liner in concert with the killing blow. He is sometimes thoughtful, and sometimes rash...sometimes detached, and sometimes emotional. In other words, James Bond is human. Despite this humanization of his character, he has not become the androgenous PC sissy-boy of the new millenium, but instead is even more masculine, dark, and all-around badass than Bond's ever been.

The technology was scaled way back as well. Bond is forced to rely on his wits, his brawn, and good fortune to escape the bad guys, instead of explosive chewing gum or cufflink darts. The famous 1964 Aston Martin does not transform into a helicopter, hovercraft, or a submarine. It is not equipped with machine guns or rockets - it instead comes with a defibrillator.

Also, I was impressed by every nod to the original Bond series - I laughed out loud when he assigned his female partner an undercover name of "Stephanie Broadchest" - as they showed both respect for their roots and at the same time reminded the viewer that this is no longer your father's James Bond.

Were there some problems? Yes, but I'm willing to forgive all of them (aside from the embarrassing opening "song" by Chris Cornell.) The poker scenes relied on mathematically improbable card combinations instead of skilled poker play (this should have been easy to correct.) In the two biggest swing hands - one which Bond loses, and one which Le Chiffre loses - the losing hand is a full house, and there are very few cases where it is wrong to go broke with a full house (good poker players understand that the odds that your opponent will have quads or a straight flush are remote. You simply must pay off those rare hands, in order to win the 95% of the time you are ahead.) It would have been much more interesting to see the psychology of bluffing have a bigger impact - for instance, Le Chiffre making a bold bluff with K-high, while Bond makes a heroic call with A-high - but, alas, the writers did not agree.

Also, there were two under-developed plot lines. First, the romance between Bond and Vesper...with one clothes-on shower and a little torture, they went from sarcastic playmates to deeply in love (granted, torture can do strange things to a person.) Second, the mysterious Mr. White makes three appearances in the movie, with a total of two minutes of screen time, and yet he's the criminal mastermind behind the scenes. Both plot lines seemed totally rushed and probably edited out during post-production. However, with a running time already pushing 2:30, I certainly understand why they didn't get full treatment.

Overall, this is a must-see flick. If you were a fan of the original James Bond series, then you'll find that this re-invention is exactly the breath of fresh air that the franchise needed. If you weren't a Bond fan before, you should give yourself a chance to become one. I look forward to see if future installments can live up to the promise of Casino Royale.


At 7:53 PM, Anonymous jenn said...

I think Mr. White shows up 4 times.


Post a Comment

<< Home