Friday, November 9, 2012

Casino Royale - Dir. Martin Campbell (The Bond Project #21 - JK)

Casino Royale (2006)
Dir: Martin Campbell

Icy Bond
Jack Knorps

                I should begin this review by noting that my knowledge of the James Bond Canon is very slight.  It is only due to THE BOND PROJECT, suggested and carried out by Jay Maronde, that I have been able to learn about the history of the Franchise.  I had seen portions of GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies in my early high school years, but had never seen one of the films in its entirety until Casino Royale.  Thus I am able to judge this film completely on its own terms.  And  I would say it is a very good one. 
The film opens in Prague, jumps to Uganda, then Madagascar, then London, then Paradise Island in the Bahamas, then Miami, then Montenegro, and finally to Venice.  There may be other Bond films with more “globe-trotting,” but this one also makes wonderful use of an extraordinary array of beautiful shooting locations—particularly the scenes in Venice, and the final scene of the film (perhaps a “hidden” location).
                The film opens up with a relatively quiet pre-credits sequence involving an assassination carried out by Bond which only hints at the plot of the film.  The scene in Uganda fleshes that plot out, where we see a strange man, dapper, with a glass eye, approach a terrorist group to assist them with their funding.  They give him a large amount of cash in briefcases and request that he invest it in a portfolio with no risk.  He leaves, and he calls someone on his cell phone and says, “Buy one hundred million dollars worth of stock in Skyfleet.”  The man on the other end says, “Why?  Everyone knows that stock is only going to go up.”  As a student taking a course in Corporate Finance, this part was quite interesting to me.
                The next scene shows Bond in Madagascar, and this is one of the best chase scenes I have seen in recent memory.  He is hunting down a bomb-maker for a terrorist organization in an attempt to get information about who is helping to fund his and other organizations.  This bomb-maker is quite an acrobat, and it is quite humorous to watch Bond—admittedly in very good shape, but no acrobat—try to catch up to him.  Perhaps the key moment is when he jumps to an elevator, and slams the lever down so that he drops to the bottom at near free-fall speed.  This “motif” will arise in the penultimate scene in the film to nearly-heartbreaking effect.
                A word on Daniel Craig as Bond: he is icy.  He plays a cold, ruthless killer, who has no sympathy for his victims (or at least so he later says when questioned on the matter—“I wouldn’t be good at my job otherwise,” he explains).  He has the ability to turn on the charm when necessary to do so, but he rarely allows his emotions to get in the way.  This does happen in the film near the end, but in such a manner that one could not call it “false.”  He is a good Bond, perhaps lacking the suave of Pierce Brosnan, but adding a hard-nosed “darkness” to the character that is quite appropriate for this era of film where morally ambiguous characters tend to fill the screen and most filmmakers want to achieve the kind of success that Christopher Nolan has turned into a trend.
                In London, M (played to perfection, again, by Dame Judi Dench) chastises Bond for allowing the bomb-maker to die in a melee and tells him never to “go rogue” again.  Bond has actually broken into her home while this conversation takes place.  He then goes to the Bahamas—not for a vacation, but to track a cell phone call that he found in connection with the bomb-maker. 
                The first time we see Bond driving a car, he is driving a Ford rental car to the hotel on Paradise Island (The Ocean Club, which may or may not be a stand-in for the famous luxury resort Atlantis—which is shown in at least one shot).  The subtle humor of this scene is escalated when Bond waits for his valet to return to park the car.  Bond kneels down to tie one of his shoes, and another hotel patron arrives in a Range Rover.  He throws his keys at Bond and tells him to hurry up and park the car.  Bond drives the Range Rover rather aggressively, parks it carefully, then slams it into reverse as if he is going to park perfectly in another spot behind him—but does not slam on the brakes and instead smashes into a car in the next spot behind him.  Many alarms go off, and Bond throws the keys to the Range Rover aimlessly across the parking lot.  The lesson is that you do not mistake James Bond for a parking valet or he will ruin your car.
                The cell phone information leads him to check out a surveillance camera tape from the date and time of the call, wherein he is able to view the caller: another bomb-maker.  This one has a beautiful wife/girlfriend/mistress that Bond sees as he comes out of the ocean from a swim at the beach.  She is attending to a horse.  He eyes her, and she notices.  Later, Bond seduces her in his hotel room in order to get information about the bomb-maker.  This scene is quite suggestive and may show that audiences in 2006 are not as “prudish” for PG-13 purposes as in the past.  This film could get an R-rating, but excessive cursing is not necessary in a Bond film, and the sex scenes are edited just to the point that nudity does not occur while still remaining quite intense.  It appears as if he may spend the night with her, but instead he leaves and goes directly for the bomb-maker—who has gone to the Miami airport. 
                There is apparently a new prototype of a plane being unveiled: Skyfleet’s biggest airplane ever.  The bomb-maker is on the scene to destroy the plane, in the hopes of sending the company into bankruptcy and the stock down to almost nothing.  I do not understand the economics of this plan, and I may be incorrect either about the motives of the bomb-makers and the financier of the terrorist organization or principles of Corporate Finance—but it would appear that they would want the stock to go up!  I am probably missing some subtle plot point here but I confess I watched this film on my laptop and that sometimes it can be difficult to catch everything that a character says in this film.  You really need to pay close attention. 
                The financier is Le Chiffre, who may or may not be French, but is quite a good poker player, known for his famous bluffing which sometimes involves crying tears of blood from his glass eye.  I will not reveal what happens during the scene in the airport, but the Skyfleet plane model itself is fantastic, and the scene itself is probably the second “great” one in the film.
                From there Bond returns to London and is informed that Le Chiffre (who has by now been connected to the bomb-maker in question at the Miami airport) will be playing at a $150 million poker game in Montenegro—will Bond play?  Of course he will.
                On the train he meets the beautiful Vesper Lynd, whom he calls “Miss Money.”  Initially it made me think that this was his token scene of flirting with Miss Moneypenny, and that Miss Moneypenny had stopped working for MI6 and had started working for the British Treasury department, which is funding Bond’s $10 million buy-in for the game.  But like I said, I have not seen any of the Bond films in their entirety.  For this farce in Montenegro, she will play his wife, and they will share a two-bedroom suite.  He buys her a dress to wear, and she buys him a dinner jacket to wear.  They go to the game, and it is adjourned twice.  Violence ensues during the first adjournment, and Le Chiffre is targeted by the terrorist organization demanding their money.  They threaten to cut off his girlfriend’s hand, but he does not seem to care. 
                Shortly after the second adjournment, something happens to Bond that I will not reveal, but which sets up the third “great” scene—which is the final long stretch of the poker game.  After that Bond is captured, subjected to an act of torture that is both frightening and hilarious (in terms of Bond’s reactions, at least), and saved by a mysterious figure in an almost random act of violence.
                From there he escapes with Vesper Lynd to a tropical location and they live happily ever after.
                Obviously that last sentence is not true but this is a film that seems rather easy to spoil.  I will just say that the final hour of the film is probably its strongest part—and that means no disrespect to the opening and middle sections of the film, which are quite well done.  I just enjoyed the ending because everything seems to fall apart rather quickly and become extremely dramatic in a way that catches the viewer off guard.  And the final scene (and more precisely, the final shot) of the film is instantly classic.  Perhaps there is a Bond film with a better closing line, or cliffhanger, but it would be hard to imagine.
                The writer for THE BOND PROJECT, Jay Maronde, informed me that Quantum of Solace picks up where Casino Royale left off, and in this way, the two films are the only Bond films that might be considered “two parts of one very long film.”  Jay has also intimated that he finds these two films to be amongst the very best of the Franchise.  While this initially shocked me, with so many classics in the past, after watching Casino Royale I can certainly understand why, and am very excited to see what happens next.   

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