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
'Bond' isn't very likeable in Casino Royale and doesn't seem very
bright. He hardly speaks, gloomy monosyllabic indifference
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
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.