Greg Haugen is Unshaken and Unstirred

The mass hysteria wheeled out for Daniel Craig's predictably minimalist take on James Bond has not only passed me by but entered the atmosphere and may now be in another universe. One or two lunatics, I mean fans, have even dared suggest that Craig may displace Sean Connery as the BEST BOND EVER! I understand that the fanboys are giddy at having a new film after four long years but let's all calm down, have a cup of tea, and think about this. I knew I was in trouble when a woman on BBC2's self-important late night arts discussion 'Late Review' declared that the juxtaposition between a hulking brute of a man and his vulnerability to a piece of rope swung in the right place was a stroke of genius. I'm sure that would have some sort of pretentious merit as a comment if the torture sequence had been written in 2006 for Daniel Craig. But, unfortunately it was written by Ian Fleming a long time ago and his Bond certainly wasn't a musclebound hulk.

I'll put Craig to one side for a moment. The biggest problem with Casino Royale is not the trash-compacting of the Bond staples but the structure. I should add that ditching the staples didn't help, especially if you, like me, are one of those untrendy people who enjoy the James Bond series rather than declare that two Sean Connery films and Casino Royale aside it was all terrible. Tie-straightening underwater! Bah! That could never happen in real-life!

We are well into the film when Vesper arrives. With the novel relegated to the last part much of Casino Royale is a mix of Brosnan Bond, new flavour Coke Bond, Die Hard 2, The Transporter and an episode of Dynasty minus a Joan Collins catfight that ends up in a pond the size of an Olympic swimming pool. I have no problem with action. It's why I go to see James Bond films. I have no desire to see how 'James became Bond' as that weird tv-spot put it. Just as well because the film wouldn't have enlightened me.

The opening shot of Casino Royale could have been in the casino. High rollers, evening dresses. Think of Clive Owen's introduction in Croupier. We track through the glitter to Bond facing down Le Chiffre. I would personally have made the construction chase less silly. Yes, the gritty and realistic Casino Royale contains one of the silliest sequences in Bond history. The film has won praise for making Bond a real human being who can be hurt or killed yet the first scene of the film proper more or less establishes 007 as an indestructible Hulk type character who can run through walls and jump off cranes without a scratch. Look at the angle of the girder Craig runs up (with his harness removed by CGI). Impossible. Why does Bond climb up the scaffolding and jump off? Why not wait for the bomber to come down? Why does Bond instruct his fellow Agent to keep the bomber alive and then give chase in a bulldozer (Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan would be retrospectively slaughtered for this moment alone) and blow up an Embassy of cardboard soldiers before shooting him? Answers on a postcard...

'Bond' isn't very likeable in Casino Royale and doesn't seem very bright. He hardly speaks,  gloomy monosyllabic indifference his signature. Craig's long meaningful stares and lip-quivering didn't do an awful lot for me and I still think a deconstruction of the series, if such a thing was needed, with a freshly minted 007 required a younger looking actor. Craig does his own thing with Bond to be sure; but I doubt the series as a whole would have become such a cult pop-culture phenomenon if it had elbowed the suave gentleman killer for a morose everyman strangling people in lavatories at its inception.

A faithful adaption of Casino Royale would be a period piece. It wouldn't be very long and would have a car crash and the torture scene as the major incidents. Naturally they can't do that. So we get half of a film that could have been cobbled together with material left over from an abortive fifth Brosnan script. Craig wanders around a country club looking a bit gormless and (yawn) finds that any problem he may have, or any person he needs to find, will be taken care of by his mobile telephone. That's a gadget isn't it? Am I missing something here?

Overall I would have introduced Vesper a lot earlier and I didn't like the psychological banter that introduces her to the audience and Bond. This is dialogue that sounds like a script, not  people talking. Groan inducing stuff. Eva Green was alright but having Vesper turn up about an hour into the film and then sidelined by a tedious poker game wasn't the best move. And Bond is still lumbered with average action directors who lack an inventive touch. The (Liman and Greengrass helmed) Bourne films still seem sassier and more modern than Casino Royale. Jason Bourne manages to project some reality and grittiness by placing the character in a world that we can just about recognise. Casino Royale attempts to reposition its hero as a less flippant and flintier lead too, but having him leap around cranes like Spider-Man or Daredevil and waltz through a post 9/11 American city Airport check-in as if it was a sleepy train station in Tunbridge Wells doesn't make much sense. Especially when placed alongside scenes that ask us to believe Bond is a real person who has to wobble a glass of Scotch in front of a mirror after killing some faceless goon. Are we supposed to be taking this film seriously?

The murder of Dryden could have been a B/W flashback later in the film. It was simply too short for a PTS and they put the lot in the trailers. I thought the scene was well staged despite a slightly pretentious subtext of 'We're mad we are. We've put a black and white scene in a James Bond film!' And how Judi Dench is still in this series is anyone's guess. She might be great in other films but I can't be the only one who stifles a yawn whenever she pops up as M. Barbara Broccoli is clearly star-struck at working with British luvvie Royalty, even if they don't fit their parts. The much talked about torture scene was turned into something of a joke with crude dialogue completely out of place in a James Bond film. There was more suspense in the torture sequence between Steven Seagal and Henry Silva in Eighties action nonsense Above The Law, and no, that is not sarcasm on my part. The sequence where Geena Davis is questioned and nearly drowned in The Long Kiss Goodnight was more inventive and gripping.

To say that Casino Royale is better than the less than the sum of their parts Pierce Brosnan blockbusters may be a backhanded compliment. A shame that Brosnan got shabby scripts and directors. Perhaps a more interesting comparison could be made between Casino Royale and Timothy Dalton's two equally earnest stabs at de-camping the James Bond series. I'd rather watch The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill than sit through Casino Royale again in the near future.

I could nit-pick Casino Royale until I'm blue in the face. Daniel Craig's worthy but dull pursed lipped acting style seems to have floated the boats of a lot of people who don't seem to like many of the James Bond films; but, psychologically, I've never really adjusted to my fictional hero being played by a man who looks like a Gas-Fitter from Canvey Island.

Would I have loved Casino Royale if another actor had been cast? I don't know. It's hard to be objective. Anyway, there are twenty James Bond films in my DVD collection. I'll stick with them for the time being. If anyone needs me I'll be in town, zig-zagging my way through cardboard stands piled high with Casino Royale DVDs.  
- Greg Haugen 

c 2006 Alternative 007