Sunday, November 11, 2012

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

Casino Royale (2006)
Dir: Martin Campbell
Re-Rebirth of Bond
Jay Maronde
                For the 21st Bond the Producers at Eon Productions wanted to start the slate clean. Through various deals with Sony the rights to the original Ian Fleming James Bond novel had finally been acquired, and they would make the “first Bond” for the first time as a restart to the Franchise. Martin Campbell, who had directed GoldenEye several years earlier, was re-hired, and an extensive search was conducted to find a new Bond. Soon thereafter, a very controversial choice was made with Daniel Craig to star in the role.
                Let me start right here with Daniel Craig: he is easily the best of the Bonds, hands DOWN. Daniel Craig put a tremendous amount of effort into the Bond role, reading every single Fleming novel and gaining 20 pounds of muscle in anticipation. And it shows—as this new Bond is tougher, colder and more real—much like you would imagine a British assassin to be like. The pre-credits sequence, which is the first James Bond scene ever filmed in black and white, explains the circumstances by which Bond acquires his 00 status and his license to kill, in a manner that introduces this new Bond very clearly as a cold, dark, murderous character. Shortly after this opening scene, the newly “made” agent is sent on a mission to question a bomb-maker. When the spot is blown, Bond chases him down in a fantastic parkour (extreme running) scene in which Bond destroys an entire construction site and runs directly through a wall like the unstoppable force that he is. When the bomb-maker escapes into an embassy, Bond follows him directly in and assaults the entire place to drag his prisoner back out. It’s worth noting that this scene is indicative of how this new Bond not only does not give a fuck but will single handedly disable an entire enemy force (without actually murdering any of them). Clearly this causes some hell back at MI6 where a very upset M. (with Dame Judi Dench anachronistically reprising her classic role better than ever before) tells Bond to get lost. So Bond goes to the Bahamas, and finds his way back into trouble, but only after first seducing a henchman’s wife, and acquiring  a classic Aston Martin db5. Bond goes to Miami, and in another way too cold scene, murders the henchman right as a camera crew is passing while the two are at the Bodies Exposition (it is worth noting that this is the first time there has ever been an actual corpse seen in any James Bond film, ever, even though they are part of the exhibit). 
                Bond stops the henchman’s plans, which the upsets the film’s main villain, Le Chiffre’s, master plan. Le Chiffre is a fantastic villain, one of the ultimates in the entire James Bond Canon. He is an evil banker (which, considering recent feelings against Wall Street types, is probably evil enough to make him super evil already) but he also weeps blood, which by the way is a real, yet super freaky condition. Anyways, this super evil villain has been gambling his clients’ money in the stock market while attempting to radically affect the market through acts of terrorism. Now that Bond has foiled his plans his only chance of getting the money back is through a high stakes poker game at Casino Royale.  This is Bond’s next assignment: defeat Le Chiffre in the poker game and thereby force him to defect from his life of crime and tell MI6 about all the bad dudes who are his clients (Bond is obviously the best poker player in the service and is the only choice for this job). While riding the train to the poker match, Bond meets his contact from HM treasury, the gorgeous Vesper Lynd (who is portrayed wonderfully by the stunningly beautiful Eva Green in what is literally a performance of a lifetime) who first denies Bond’s advances, but later falls hard and fast for him in a romance that has been described as the only woman Bond ever loved.  Also worth noting is that the martini that Bond concocts at Casino Royale and names “The Vesper” is really the “official James Bond martini” as espoused in the Ian Fleming novels, and if you’ve never had one I would urge you strongly to try one as while they are very strong they are fantastic. Bond beats Le Chiffre in the poker match—but that’s only about 2/3 of the way through the film. The rest of the film is about the love between Bond and Lynd. The fact that this film is really three Bonds in one (Bond gets his 00; Bond wins at Casino Royale; Bond & Vesper) is a big part of the reason that this is, by far, the longest Bond film, and also a great deal of the reason why this film is so wonderful to watch. The viewer is drawn into the James Bond universe as never before.
                While in the James Bond Universe there are certain things that the viewer expects. One of these major things is Q branch. But while Bond has some very impressive equipment, there is no Q branch briefing, and much like Dr. No, Bond relies much more on brute force and tricks of the trade rather than gizmos. One thing that Q branch does deliver is a brand-new, super-nice, racing-edition Aston Martin DBS. This car, while not featured that prominently, is the newest, slickest Bond car yet. The car and the franchise also set a Guinness World Record (again) later on in the film when Bond flips it and rolls the car 7 times. This scene was really filmed, and a stunt man was really in the vehicle (driving at over 70 mph) when the car was flipped, completely destroying the $200,000+ asset. Another Bond fixture that returns in Casino Royale is our old friend Felix Leiter, played wonderfully this time by Jeffrey Wright. Wright’s Leiter is spot-on and his acting and on-screen rapport with Bond is beyond reproach.
                With Casino Royale the Eon Productions team didn’t just manage to restart the James Bond movie series—they managed to make a masterpiece. The actors, the action, the stunts, the plots, the cars—every single aspect of this film has been taken to the next level and beyond. Daniel Craig, while initially causing a media row over being the first Blonde Bond, is utterly heartstoppingly fantastic: he’s so hard, so cold, so real it’s beyond description. The only advice I can give is to pay close attention to Daniel Craig if you really want to see a great feat of acting. Further, this movie wonderfully sets up the rest of the franchise and really begins to illustrate the reasons why Bond is so Bond. Casino Royale is simply a “must-see.

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