Thursday, April 12, 2007

All you need is a strong heart and nerves of steel

Casino Royale is the best Bond movie yet. It takes its subject matter seriously, remains true to the spirit of the books, uses humor without resorting to camp, and alternates between effective action and subterfuge.

The story is based on the first Fleming novel, in which Bond moves from agent to elite double oh, with attendant license to kill. Bond is presented as a smooth talking killer, who has yet to develop some of the refined tastes displayed in other books and movies. Bond has to learn to fight his basic reaction which is to reach for a weapon and begin inflicting harm.

In addition to learning subtlety and patience, Bond has to learn to surrender a good chunk of his humanity. The final act of the film takes place in Venice, and the the red clad figure running through Venice alleys is an obvious Don't Look Now reference. And like Donald Sutherland's chase, Bond's chase ends in death. In Bond's case, it is the shattering of any chance of his having a normal, human life.

This ties into the overall narrative arc of the Bond novels, but much more quickly than was handled there. It will be interesting to see if they continue to work on Bond as a character in the next movie.

Character aside, the action in the movie is innovative and thrilling. When Bond chases a terrorist lackey through a Madagascar construction site and a foreign embassy, I was enthralled. In most Bond films, the action is so over the top to be laughable. Here when Bond makes a leap, it looks scary and it looks like it hurts.

The movie also has its humorous elements, such as when Bond is mistaken for a doorman and a pompous fool hands him his keys. The movie does not take a humorous approach to the material itself. When a movie sets an ironic distance to itself, it is hard to take any of it seriously or to engage in it. Dropping the campy, winking style of much of the recent films was an excellent decision. Eliminating the Cold War context is a tad sad, but necessary. It is too recent for a period piece.

It's worth noting that I would never have guessed that one of the Hunger Strike boys would be singing a Bond theme song in 2006. Could Eddie be next?

For a laugh, check out the pissing and moaning over at Daniel Craig is Not James Bond. The members really vent some pointless steam in the forum item "What was the worst bit in Casino Royale For You?"


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more about this being the best Bond movie yet - I thought everything about the film was fantastic.

It was way past time for the Bond movies to grow up a little and get away from the 'super spy with gadgets fighting off armies of henchmen with poor aim' stereotype. Glad to see this current Bond took a page out of Jason Bourne's book and kept things gritty and realistic :)

Although, what was up with that torture scene? You know, the one where he's getting whacked in the balls by the guy with the knotted rope? I mean, wtf?

Tripp said...

The torture scene was a bit much. In this audio conversation, Raymond Chandler puts the torture question to Fleming.

IIRC his answer is that Bond has it so good, he needs a little bad to go with it.

The mp3 is a treat, do give it a listen.