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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Double-ovember: Casino Royale (DJ's Take)

REAL
Lets face it.  Die Another Day sucked.  I haven't reviewed it yet, but in case I don't get a chance to, let me save you the suspense.  Die Another Day sucked.  James Bond deserved better than that.  At the time, 007 was hit by a perfect storm.  Pierce Brosnan was getting too old for the role, producers thought Bond should compete with and emulate the extreme sports sci-fi spy film xXx, while they underestimated the the rise of Jason Bourne.  It didn't take them long to rectify those mistakes.  Eon Productions decided to not only recast Bond, but reboot the series with a more gritty and REALISTIC feel.  Bond's beginnings is Casino Royale.  And it is f*#king awesome.  Wait, that isn't a very professional review of it.  So, let me just say that Casino Royale reinvents the James Bond formula and world with an amazing flourish that extends the franchise's cinematic life for decades to come.  But honestly, it is f*#king awesome.

So, who do you recast Bond with?  You have to give it to the producers of the franchise.  They are not afraid to shake things up a bit.  Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan are as similar to each other as members of The Muppets.  But no other Bond in history has been criticized and scrutinized more than Daniel Craig.  Even to this day.  People lost their minds over his hair, his thin acting resume, and his rugged looks.  So much so, there were online petitions to have him removed.  In retrospect, these critics of Craig were not understanding the central point of Casino Royale.  Casino Royale is essentially the origin story of James Bond.  He isn't suave yet.  He isn't debonair.  He isn't the man who always has a plan.  He is just a cold-blooded killing machine.  If I can't capture my target, I'll kill him instead.  I might beat you in a fight, but not without receiving my fair share of damage.  I'd rather just skip the secret identity crap and get right to the bad guy confrontation.  Craig fits that role to a tee, in my opinion.  Craig is what a REAL secret agent would probably look like.  Not some pretty boy underwear model who uses as much skin moisturizer as he does bullets.  A man who has been in a few scrapes and survived.  A man who has just qualified to be a double-0, but not a seasoned one.  Oh, and despite his, then, thin resume, Daniel Craig had acting chops that were on par with or better than any other Bond before him.  He has plenty of range, and shows it off in this film.

Director Martin Campbell knocked GoldenEye out of the park.  But the odds were in his favor.  Craig casting controversy made this film an underdog from the start.  On top of that, Casino Royale did not have as many action beats as his previous outing.  So, it would have been easy for the film to feel flat and tedious.  However, Campbell makes Royale anything but.  A scene where six guys are sitting around a table feels as compelling as a car chase or a shootout.  He directs the Paul Haggis script with perfection and gives the movie the 'Almost Bond' feel it needs.  I just love how we start to get hints of a typical Bond feel in scenes, but are suddenly pulled back because we aren't there yet.  You see, James isn't James until the last five minutes.  Campbell, Craig, Haggis and even composer David Arnold all knew that.  Critics didn't grasp it until now.

In every Bond review I've done so far, I have talked about the validity of the Bond girls in each film.   I've differentiated them by how weak they are as characters.  How much of a pawn they are for the villain or Bond or both.  I've said that the stronger the Bond girl, the brighter 007 shines.  And, for me, there is no stronger Bond girl in the entire series than Vesper Lynd.  She is my ultimate Bond girl, hands down.  She is beautiful, she is smart, she is witty, and most importantly, she is the one Bond girl 007 can't read, can't play, can't impress.  At every point where you think Bond has figured her out, Vesper throws him for a loop.  And SPOILER ALERT...this is probably the only instance where the Bond girl makes Bond a pawn in the plot of the story.  She is not the typical, "I just met you five minutes ago, but I love you James" weakling most Bond girls are.  James and Vesper's relationship feels REAL.  It feels earned.  Eva Green is amazing in this film.  Her chemistry with Craig is perfect and the range of emotions she displays throughout this film always floors me.  You can actually see her fall in love with James and instantly regret it.

If there is a weakness Casino Royale has, it is the villain.  Mads Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre isn't bad by any means.  The plot just doesn't allow for a satisfying final confrontation between Bond and Le Chiffre.  Casino Royale is thinking bigger than that.  It is setting up a more dangerous organization along the lines of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. during Connery's run.  And because the reveal of this mysterious organization has not been immediate, Royale's set up for it feels unfulfilled.  Again, this is a small weakness seeing as the main focus of Casino Royale is Bond.  Everything else falls to the wayside.

Casino Royale is not just a successful reboot of a franchise.  It is a well made, well acted, Bond film that set the bar high for every Bond film to come.  I'm especially thankful to it because it completely washed the taste of Die Another Day out of my mouth.  Seriously, that movie sucks.  Sing along with Chris Cornell...stop touching your ear...go all in...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

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