Last nite I went to see the latest Bond movie, Casino Royale
, with 2 of my friends. This movie has been the subject of controversy by many who felt that Daniel Craig did not deserve to play Bond. Well, I've got some bad news for them, Daniel Craig has taken Bond & made the role his own.
I went into the movie with 2 thoughts; 1) from the previews it looked like Craig would do a good job; 2) I was curious to see how they would take the basic plot from the Ian Fleming novel & update it. I was not disappointed in the least. Nor were my friends.
My short version of my review:
This is the best Bond movie ever made & is now up there with my top 3 favorite Bond movies.
(Note: I will do my best to avoid spoilers & when I come to the discussion of the final part of the film I will do it in a seperate section with a clearly marked spoiler warning.)
Casino Royale is the 3rd film version of the novel. The 1st was an adaptation of the central bacarat contest part of the novel for the CBS anthology Climax in 1954. The 2nd version was a movie made in 1966 that ened up being more of a spoof than a serious Bond movie. The story of how that came about is too long to go into here. The best I can say is both had their strengths & weaknesses. But the fact that these 2 versions were made kept Eon Productions from having the rights to make 1 that was a part of what has come to be known as the official Bond series of movies. That was until the merger of Sony with MGM/UA a few years ago.
When the decision to make Casino Royale
was made another decision was made to reboot the series & make this the Bond origin story. That lead to the controversy of the firing of Pierce Brosnan & the hiring of Daniel Craig. Daniel Craig is too blond, he is not handsome enough, etc. Much of this was reminiscent of how they treated George Lazenby while he was filming On Her Majesty's Secret Service
(my alltime favorite Bond movie). The blond gripe ignored the fact that Roger Moore was blond & they didn't darken his hair to black. The looks arguement fades when you look at
the Ian Fleming description of Bond. In the novel Vesper describes James as looking like Hoagy Carmichael. The picture on the left is 1 of Hoagy Carmichael
from Oct 1946 (taken from his official website). The novel also says that she sees him as looking cold & ruthless. & in From Russia with
Love, Bond is desribed as having a hint of cruelty & grey-blue eyes. I think that by that standard Daniel Craig can fit the bill as well or better than any of the other actors. As I said above, in my opinion, Daniel Craig has made the role his own. He meets every challenge in the script & suceeds in making Bond believable & comes the closest to Bond as Ian Fleming envisioned him. (Interestingly enough when Timothy Dalton played Bond he came under criticism for trying & suceeding, to play Bond closer to the way Fleming wrote him in the books. & Dalton was in my 2nd favorite Bond movie Licence to Kill
Since the novel was written in the early 50s, it has the KGB & Smersh from the Soviet Union as the villians. In 2006 that would clearly not be true. So, the writers had to update the plot. & they did so while keeping the heart of the story.
The movie opens with the usual pre-credits sequence. It this short story we learn of the 2 killings that MI-6 requires of an agent before he (or she I would assume) can become a 00 agent. This sequence was filmed in black & white. It works perfectly to catch the ugly, dark, dirty side of espionage. Again there is some needed updating as the original novel had Bond killing a Japanese cipher clerk breaking British codes in the RCA Building for his 1st kill. The 2nd was killing a Norwegian in Stockholm who was doubling for Germany against the British. The update keeps the double agent & Bond's description of the 1 killing as not as clean. At the end Bond is now 007.
Then we have the gunbarrel sequence that leads into the main title sequence. In this case here was the more appropriate placement of the sequence as up to now Bond wasn't 007. Daniel Kleinman did the main titles to the song "You Know My Name
" sung by Chris Cornell. The theme is naturally based on the various suits in a deck of cards. This too is probably 1 of the best title sequences in the series taking it as Daniel Kleinman said in an interview
for Digit Magazine
"back to basics". "I wanted to simplify the look, give it a harder feel than the hi-tech ultra-glam with which the titles have become identified. Graphic design seemed a good way to go in this direction."
"Martin Campbell (Casino Royale's director) mentioned that he liked the idea of a card motif - and I took that and ran with it as far as possible. One starting point was Ian Fleming's own design for the first edition of Casino Royale, which used the hearts from a playing card. I also remember that a puff of gun smoke stylised into the form of a club symbol came to me early, and I sketched that."
The movie proper, starts out with our introduction to Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). LeChiffre works for an unknown orginization that specializes in helping terrost orginizations get their money to where it is needed as well as to help them invest it until needed. Hopefully we will find out more about this group in future movies. The plot line implies that they will.
Bond is put onto the trail of the orginization while he is investigating 1 of the terrorist orginizations that is a client of LeChiffre's group. At this point in the movie Craig plays Bond as someone who is overconfident in his abilities & who lets his ego get in the way of his good judgement. So much so that M regrets promoting him to 007 status. The 1st half of the movie stes up the 2nd half of the movie which is the part adapted from the novel. This set up is needed for 2 reasons. The 1st so that we can learn who Bond is at this point at his life before he became the top MI-6 agent he was in the previous movies. The 2nd is so that we know what got Bond to Casino Royale & the high stakes Texas Hold-Em tournament.
The movie moves quickly from scene to scene in a way that is logical. There is not a single part of the movie that drags. & except for 2 scenes that stretch things a bit there is nothing in the movie that couldn't happen in real life. This movie held my interest from beginning to end. It had its serious moments as well as its humorous. & unlike often in the previous movies the humor came naturally from the situation. In most of the other movies, esp with Roger Moore, there were times when you felt that Bond was in on the joke & winking at the audience.
The movie has the usual wide variety of exotic locales. They include Madagascar, the Bahamas, Montenegro & Venice. The setting of Casino Royale in Montenegro is esp beautiful. It also has a couple of chase scenes. There are some gadgets, but for the most part they are logical & not futuristic. They don't get in the way of the plot but move it along. 1 aside, by no coincidence the laptops & cell phones are all Sony brands.
Characters & Actors:
Unlike most Bond villians LeChiffre is not a megolmaniac out to take over the world. LeChiffre is excellently portrayed by Mikkelsen as a man who is supremely confident in his talents, whether it is his ability to make money for his clients or his ability to win at cards no matter the odds. He is a totally believable character.
In fact that can be said of every character in the movie. No 1 is larger than life, everyone is a real person.
I've already said a bit about Daniel Craig. I repeat what I said, he makes Bond his own. Whether it is the overconfident neophite spy at the beginning or the more mature wise Bond at the end Daniel Craig plays him in a way that the evolution is totally believable. Bond is no superhero as he has been in most of the other movies. He is the Bond of the novels.
Raymond Benson, in The James Bond Bedside Companion (1984, pg 59) wrote: "It should also be noted that the James Bond character of the novels is quite different from the figure presented on film. The literary Bond is much more realistic; he's a serious individual with very human qualities. (The film version of James Bond is a larger than life superhuman.) 1 of my friends made a similar comment at the end of the movie. He was so impressed by the movie that he said that if they continued in this style he could become a strong fan of them.
M is superbly played by Dame Judi Dench. Here again we see the M of the books (except that the M in the novel was male.) Here M is seen as irrascible at times, short tempered when Bond doesn't do what he should. M's 1st priority is the work of MI-6 & seeing it is done right. She doesn't tollerate misuse of resources or people. This is the best written M in any of the movies.
Vesper Lynd is played by Eva Green. She presents Vesper as a strong woman who knows who she is & what her job is. She is not a woman who is waiting for a man to come & take her away. She is Bond's equal & again more like the women in the novels. There are 2 scenes in which she is at her best. The 1st is when she 1st meets Bond. He isn't too comfortable with dealing with a strong women. Each tries to get the better of the other in a variety of ways in this & some sunsequent scenes. The 2nd is the scene of her reaction after she sees Bond have to kill 2 men who are trying to kill them. At this point she is very vulnerable. She has seen something horrible that she never expected to face. & she has to let somene else help her deal with it, in this case Bond. Craig's portrayal of Bond's response in helping her to deal with it is tender & shows a side of Bond rarely seen.
Mathis is played by Giancarlo Giannini. There is a slight change her from the books. Mathis was a part of the French Secret Service in the novel. Here he is another MI-6 agent. Mathis isn't a large role, but it is key to some of the plot developments & Giannini makes him someone whom you instantly like. Giannini isn't as well known in the USA but is a well established actor in Italy.
Felix Leiter is played by Jeffrey Wright. He isn't given much to do in the movie except for 1 key scene. This is a reduction of his role from the novel. But, I liked him in the role & hope they bring him back. I also hope that the writers go back to the relationship between Bond & Leiter that is seen in the 6 novels in which Leiter appears. In the books they develop a deep & sincere friendship that is based on more than their work. It is also based on several shared interests. The only movie that ever truly caught the friendship as it should be portrayed was in Licence to Kill, but it did come through in a couple of the scenes in Live & Let Die.
The mysterious Mr. White is played by Jesper Christensen. He has only a few short scenes but mostly by his presence he presents someone who is powerful as well as dangerous. He is another member of the same orginization as Le Chiffre. Hopefully, he will be back in future movies.
2 other roles of note are those of Dimitrios played by Simon Abkarian & Solange played by Caterina Murino. They appear in the Bahamas sequence. These as well as the smaller roles are all very well cast.
Overall the movie is well made, well written & well acted. That is not to say that it is perfect. But as my 2 friends & I agreed the few flaws we saw were more of on the level of nitpicking than anything serious.
When we get to the end we know Bond is now Bond, James Bond the star agent for MI-6. & that he is the hero we want him to be. As usual the end credits say James Bond will Return. If this movie is a sign of the direction they are taking I can't wait for the next movie in 2008.
I highly recommend this movie both for Bond fans & non fans. All 3 of us who say the movie give it 4 stars.
From Novel to Screen:
(Warning SPOILERS ahead. Do not read if you haven't seen to movie, read the novel or have read the novel but not seen the movie & don't want to know how they changed things.)
Casino Royale was the 1st Bond Novel written by Ian Fleming. In it we are introduced to a spy named James Bond. The novel is clearly a creature of its time. LeChiffre is an agent of the KGB/The Soviet Union. He is the treasurer of a communist trade union in France. In the movie he becomes a member of a mysterious orginization that helps terrorist orginizations with their finances. This is a logical updating of the plot. In the novel we get a bit more of LeChiffre's background that we don't get in the movie.
In the novel LeChiffre invests union funds in a chain of whore-houses just before the French law is changed outlawing them. What he hoped would be a good investment became a bust & he lost the money & the only hope is to win it back at bacarat. In the movie he takes terrorist money that he is supposed to be put in a safe investment & invests it in an airline stock that he shorts knowing the terrorists are going to attack the airline. When Bond foils the plot the stock goes up instead. So LeChiffre hopes to make the money up at a Texas Hold-Em Tournament.
In the novel Vesper is the assistant of head of S. She is sent to help Bond. In the movie she is from the MI-6 Treasury dept. In the book it turns out her lover is held captive by the Soviets, in the book by LeChiffre's orginization. This is used to turn her into a double agent. In the novel after she falls in love with Bond she quits contacting her control & a manwith an eye patch is sent after her. She eventually commits suicide out of guilt from her betrayal of Bond. In the movie she turns over the money to a man with a pair of glasses with1 lens darkenned. She dies by drowning when Bond figures out what is going on & goes after her & the others taking the money.
Mathis is a French agent helping out Bond, in the movie he is a British agent. The movie plot has him possibly being a double for LeChiffre's orginization. Hopefully this will be cleared up in a future movie in which Mathis is exhonorated. This is 1 of the few plot changes I didn't like.
Felix Leiter is CIA in both novel & movie. In the movie he is 1 of the players instead of an observer as in the book. & they don't give him as big a role. As I said, hopefully this will be corrected in future movies.
In the book when Bond is about to defeat LeChiffre at bacarat 1 of the henchmen threatens to kill Bond if he doesn't quit. Bond spills backwards in his chair disarming the henchman. In the movie a female accomplice of LeChiffre poisons Bond's martini & nearly kills him. He saves himself using a portable AED in his Austin Martin while communicating with MI-6. This is 1 of the few scenes that is unrealistic, esp since Bond just goes right back to the game.
The chase scene is shorter in the movie than in the novel. In the book they use a mat with spikes that blows out the tires of Bond's car. In the movie they put Vesper in the middle of the road.
The torture seen isn't changed to much. In both Bond is strapped nude into a cane chair with the bottom removed. In the novel LeChiffre uses a carpet beater, in the movie a thickly knotted rope. The scene is much shorter in the movie but definitely made all the men squirm. Smersh kills LeChiffre in the novel, agents of the terrorist group in the movie.
Clearly 1 of the biggest changes besides the card game played is the locale of Casino Royale. In the novel it is at Royale le Eaux in NE France. In the movie it is in Montenegro.
For the most part the changes made for the movie work very well. They were made mainly because of the need to update the plot & make it applicable for today. The script writers are to be applauded for their efforts.
Labels: James Bond