Thursday, November 16, 2006

Casino Royale

You know his name.
You know his number.
You know his legend.

But you don't know a thing about him anymore.

Casino Royale is a reboot of the Bond franchise, restarting the chronology and reimagining the style.  Although the story takes place in what is apparently the year 2006, it also takes place before the "original" Bond film, Dr. No.  The "timeline" isn't ultimately the important thing in this film, however.  What really matters is the way that the character of James Bond is reworked.

In this film, Bond—as portrayed by new actor Daniel Craig—is not the two-dimensional, super-smooth secret agent that he was in the past.  Instead, he is a much more realistic character, one with obvious strengths and weaknesses.  He is a "blunt instrument" of MI6, exceedingly arrogant and forceful.  Fortunately, he has enough charm, cleverness, and physical ability to make his way through the endlessly torturous challenges set before him.

It's been said that Bond films are often made with the legacy of the Bond series in mind, and should be viewed within that framework.  Casino Royale, however, is simply a great film in its own right.  It does away with the overly grandiose and nigh-cartoonish stunts of the past, replacing them with realistic-yet-still-jaw-dropping modern style.

The action is brutal and relentless, riding on a rush of adrenaline and only stopping when the audience is on the brink of exhaustion.  Many of the scenes are so complex and awe-inspiring that they stand up with the best in film history.

The characters' interactions are remarkably well-done.  In particular, Bond's dialogue with Vesper Lynd (the "Bond girl" of the film) is stellar.  Vesper and Bond share a slightly antagonistic-yet-flirtatious relationship, and grow together realistically.  By the end of the film, the audience learns to care for Vesper, much as Bond himself does.

The character of M reappears, once again played by Judy Dench.  She is extremely important to the story, as her dialogue highlights Bond's character—and charts his progression.  The character of Felix Leitner, a CIA ally of Bond's seen in many previous films, makes a return here, with a kind of comforting effect.

There are a few absences in Casino Royale that are sorely missed.  The character of Q does not appear, nor do any of Bond's "gadgets."  (In fact, aside from a super-advanced defibrillator, Bond has nothing that even remotely resembles technology any better than what the average civilian could obtain.)  There are no hints at the greater Bond mythos, such as the evil organization S.P.E.C.T.R.E.  One might say that this film is so intensely focused on story and character that the mythos comes second.

Before this review finishes, I have to say one thing:
I love this movie and what it has done to the Bond franchise.  I am very interested in Daniel Craig's version of Bond, and I care about what happens to him.  However, to me, Daniel Craig is not James Bond.  He is a much more realistic character, yes.  A much more compelling one, in fact. But he lacks the smoothness and style that the other Bond actors possessed—notably Craig's immediate predecessor, Pierce Brosnan.  This bothers me.  I still greatly enjoy the film, but it's not exactly a Bond film to me.

All of that said, however, it's still a great movie, despite any of my personal gripes.