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Monday, November 20, 2006

Movie Watch: Casino Royale

We saw this over the weekend with some friends. Now, I'm a dyed in the wool Bond fan. There's really not a single aspect of the franchise I haven't liked - and we should acknowledge the wide myriad of features that includes within the long history since Dr. No. Connery's bond sly and occasionally almost sinister. Lazenby had that brief stint of drama. Moore was mercurial, almost whimsical at times. Dalton was a pretty stock action hero. Brosnan somehow managed to blend everything I just said.

So when people say that Casino Royale is a re-invention of the Bond series - that is almost redudant. The series has constantly been redefining itself. So how does the Craig era start off?

Rather well, really. The concept is to "go back to the books", so to speak. I'm not sure how true that is - I only vaguely remember the books. I think they do manage to capture Bond as the rough-and-tumble soldier-in-a-suit rather than the gentleman spy pretty well, and I think that's more accurate. There is less of an emphasis on puns and wordplay in the dialogue - most of it is more realistic and in the end, tight. Many feared Craig didn't look the part - but Bond has had a lot of faces. Thing is - Craig is cut like a damn tank. When he walks, he has the foreboding stature of a soldier. It makes Bond's role as an assassin (remember what the 00 means after all) fairly credible.

However "close to the books" they wanted, some of the modernizations are interesting. Instead of a car chase, we get a lengthy free running chase (that stuntwork where people are hopping from wall to wall). Bond plays Texas Hold 'Em. He isn't picky about his martini (until a pretty bad drink scene later in the movie). Some of these are savvy nods to an audience which may have grown on Bond - but doesn't need all the trappings.

It's the kind of savviness that other movie series like Star Trek and Star Wars could learn from. I swear - Lucas actually thinks we get dumber with age.

And a lot of the Bond formula remains the same. There's a bunch of stuntwork intersected by pretty women and expensive cars - all threaded together by a plot based mostly on events crashing into each other. And hey, Judi Dench is still M. Which of course means that Bond is engaging in all colors of retcon here - but it's Dame Judi Dench ... who the hell cares? She is rock solid and a necessary counterweight to Craig's steely delivery.

And Craig is really one of the best things in the movie. To hell with the detractors - the man brings nuance to a role which so often didn't care it lacked any. A couple of scenes where Bond regains his composure are pure gold.

The only real problem with the movie is that in the latter part of its two and fifteen minute running time seems to drag down. Parts of the ending feel somewhat tacked on to an already complete story and the wait for the final stunt scene feels long It's worth the trip, I think, but if you see a late night show like I did - you might find yourself shifting in your seat by the end.

Martin Campbell definately deserves some kind of bonus - he also directed GoldenEye which for me felt like a breath of fresh air for the series when Brosnan took the role (that some would say he was made for).

In short, it's fun to take Bond seriously again.

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Reel Fanatic said...

I"m definitely with you that it's nice to take Bond seriously again, and also that they definitely could have trimmed some fat from the ending .. I just hope Mr. Craig is now taking some time out to gloat to all the people who doubted he could pull this off

Josh said...

Ooo, I wish I could find this interview with him I read last week. He actually sounds pretty cool. Not terribly Hollywood, intelligent, etc.