Friday, December 29, 2006

Casino Royale (without cheese)*

*title stolen unscrupulously from Progressive Boink forum member Terry Bannedcake.

I finally got around to seeing Casino Royale on December 10, but I couldn't post this review because I didn't want to take away from the Christmas-type posts I was making.

I'm a fairly big Bond fan--I wasn't born until the eighties, but I love all of the movies. Even the goofy Roger Moore ones. I know, sad right? I own the DVDs and I've watched all twenty at least once, and usually more. I'll always stop and watch when TBS has its Bond marathons, even though I could just as easily pop in a disc and start from the beginning of a film. While I'm not the world's foremost expert on Bond, I'd like to think that I'm fairly learned on the subject. Hopefully that will add a little weight to my next two sentences.

Casino Royale, upon first viewing, is my favorite James Bond movie of all time. If he doesn't take the top spot in my mind, Daniel Craig is right up there with Connery. In fact, Craig is in a way a welcome return to the Connery days. Connery had a gruffness that was never quite matched by his imitators. Lazenby was too bland. Moore was too silly. Dalton was too pretty-boy. Brosnan was too slick. Daniel Craig sees Connery's gruffness and goes all in (see what I did? a poker reference! how apt!). It's been said before, but if you've completely avoided all other reviews of the film, you'd probably like to know that Craig completely rebuffs all of his detractors through the sheer quality of his performance.

The movie seems to be a reaction to the changing vision of spies in film and television. There are aspects of other popular series littered throughout Casino. James Bond goes all Jack Bauer on our asses and goes rogue from MI6. The action is more reminiscent of The Bourne Supremacy than previous Bond movies. Despite the apparent hodgepodge of spy movie techniques, Casino Royale seems to maintain its own identity throughout.

The film is a complete reinvention of the franchise. Gone are most of the gadgets (and all of the outlandish ones) from Casino's predecessors. Bond has a gun and an in-car health kit. There are no lock-picking telephones, invisible cars, jetpacks, or cello-case sleds. As the movie tells the origin of the character, we can see the beginnings of many of his character traits--why he thinks so little of killing people, why he treats women like objects.

That's not to say it's perfect. There is one extended fight sequence that has little relevance to the plot, and seems to be there just so that the first hour of the film doesn't drag. Bond and the villain defy gravity as they climb across a construction site. While it's not very realistic and entirely out-of-place, it's an exciting sequence and better than 95% of the action scenes in film today. The most intense moments of the film, oddly enough, take place around the card table. Despite the best efforts of ESPN2, I never thought that I would find poker entertaining, let alone engaging and even frightening. Director Martin Campbell makes it work.

Speaking of Martin Campbell, wow! This guy directed GoldenEye, and somehow he managed to pull this one off. That's versatility.

The most shocking aspect of Casino Royale was the body count. I don't think I've ever seen another PG-13 movie with so much brutality and blood. There is a scene of toe-curling torture that was, at least to me, ten times worse than anything Hostel and its ilk could convey on screen.

Repeat viewings may change my opinion, but for now it's the best Bond for your buck. Catch it before it leaves your theater.

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