September 14, 2011

#5byBond: Casino Royale

We’re following along with John Gruber and Dan Benjamin of The Talk Show. This week’s Bond film, Casino Royale, is the twenty-first in the long-running film franchise and the first starring Daniel Craig as the MI6 agent, James Bond. Craig remains the current actor in that role today.

This film marks the return of Martin Campbell as director. He previously directed GoldenEye, starring Pierce Brosnan as Bond, in that well-received outing.

This is also the first Bond film in which the character of Miss Moneypenny does not appear.

My notes:

  • the film opens in crisp black-and-white. What’s old is new.
  • love the theme song for this film, performed by Chris Cornell. The title sequence is great, too, ending with a computer graphic confirming Bond’s double-oh status next to Daniel Craig’s image, as the vocal finishes singing, “you know my name.” The Bond franchise is re-born.
  • Mr. White is one morally vacant-looking dude.
  • Mads Mikkelson makes for a good villain as Le Chiffre. He looks as evil as he acts.
  • Mallaka, the bomb maker chased by Bond, is played by Sébastien Foucan, who is also the founder of Parkour, the free-running sport they demonstrate in the chase.
  • beautiful helicopter-based photography as Bond chases Mallaka higher on the cranes. Where did Mallaka think he was going?
  • the great opening action sequence ends with a confrontation at the Nabutu embassy, where Bond demolishes the courtyard, killing Mallaka. Pierce Brosnan displayed the most energy among previous Bonds, but nothing on this scale. That was terrific action.
  • I like Le Chiffre’s henchman, Kratt. Lean, cold-looking, dangerous.
  • Judi Dench returns as M, head of MI6. Though Bernard Lee created the role, Dench is unarguably renders an excellent contemporary characterization.
  • M has a super apartment overlooking London. Want.
  • Bond arrives in the Bahamas on a float plane and rents a car. That’s a Ford Mondeo, a model akin to the North American Ford Fusion, but without the truck-like grill. Can’t get that here.
  • Bond wins his Aston Martin DB5 from Dimitrios, a short-lived villain, beginning the legend of that car in the Bond stories. A copy of this car is on exhibit at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.
  • Dimitrios bears a striking resemblance to John Siracusa (no Z), but with curly hair.
  • Bond chases a second would-be bomber around Miami airport, where Sir Richard Branson can be seen going through security.
  • the Skyfleet jumbo jet looks ridiculous. Fuel drop-tanks on a civilian transport jet?
  • the airport scene includes some of the slowest-moving jets that didn’t fall out of the sky ever seen. Amazin’!
  • the bomber does a James Bond-turn in the fuel truck as he is chased by James Bond. Weird.
  • Bond meets Vesper Lynd aboard a train to Montenegro, when she tells him, “I’m the money.” He replies, “every penny of it.” A play on the character Moneypenny’s name. This is the first of twenty-one Bond films in which her character does not appear.
  • Bond checks into the hotel and receives a car key, which opens an Aston Martin DBS. Beautiful car, the modern version of the DB5 he drove in the Bahamas.
  • Giancarlo Giannini, as Mathis, Bond’s contact in Montenegro, is a smooth operator. Well-cast.
  • Bond’s first turn at the poker table includes him ordering the original, Ian Fleming-invented, Vesper Martini. I started mixing these for myself after this film debuted and it’s become my favorite cocktail.
  • Steven Obanno looks to cut off Le Chiffre’s girlfriend’s arm, so he has his henchman extend it along his own. One slip and he has a one-armed henchman.
  • great fight scene between Bond and the terrorist Steven Obanno in the hotel stairwell.
  • Jeffrey Wright plays Felix Leiter, CIA. His is the best characterization of the role since Jack Lord in Dr. No, and arguably the best overall.
  • Bond wins the poker game, and Leiter moves to make contact with Le Chiffre to bring Le Chiffre in. The tight relationship between US and British intelligence means it doesn’t matter much who arrests the terrorist, both agencies will get what they need from him.
  • Le Chiffre pulls a fast one on Bond, luring him into a trap and taking him to a torture chamber aboard an old ship. His use of a monkey’s fist on Bond’s balls is particularly tough to watch.
  • Le Chiffre meets his end when Mr. White, hiding outside the door, overhears him say that he can defect to the British intelligence service at any time and be welcomed with open arms. White puts one through Le Chiffre’s head. Brutal and effective.
  • Bond spends a few weeks recovering on Lake Como, then takes up a sailing vacation with Vesper Lynd. He tenders his resignation to M. But it turns out Lynd has been blackmailed by Mr. White’s organization to betray Bond and retrieve the money Le Chiffre lost. They made the introduction of the terrorist Obanno and Le Chiffre, after all.
  • Bond chases down Lynd, sees her hand over the money, and battles her contact’s bodyguards. She ultimately commits suicide rather than face what she’s done, and Bond watches her die. He tracks down Mr. White and, in the final scene, wounds him followed by the line, “the name is Bond. James Bond.” The old James Bond theme plays as credits role.

I had given up on the Bond franchise years before this film debuted. I happened to be visiting a friend the following year who had seen it. He recommended we watch the DVD, and I loved it.

The action was tight, without resorting to the usual Bond film gadgetry and goofy humor. Campbell, the director, can be credited with keeping up the pace and moderating the tone of the story, shaping Craig’s Bond into a rough-hewn, somewhat sociopathic, yet not completely amoral government assassin.

Witness the sly smile that creeps onto Craig’s face after he watches the would-be airplane bomber self-detonate. Contrast that with the sorrow he exhibits over the dead body of Vesper Lynd. There is a balance to this character, but just barely.

There-in lies the other, and perhaps more important new factor: Daniel Craig. If you take a few hours to watch one or two of his other films you’ll come to the conclusion that he’s a versatile, broadly talented actor. One of my favorites among his other films is Infamous, the story of Truman Capote’s journalism of the murders that became his book In Cold Blood. His acting is superb.

This film finally ends the run of Bond films that start out great, but head downhill about halfway through. This one was terrific right to the end.

Up next: Quantum of Solace, the twenty-second in the Bond franchise. It picks up almost immediately after Casino Royale leaves off.