"Do I look like I give a damn?" - Jake Reviews Casino Royale

Casino Royale, Daniel Craig, James bond

"Do I look like I give a damn?"

Eon made a big decision when they parted company with Pierce Brosnan sometime in the wake of 2002's Die Another Day. Although heading towards his fifties, Brosnan still looked pretty good and was apparently still popular. Die Another Day was successful but not classic Bond and Brosnan deserved at least a better picture to sign off on and leave James Bond on a high. Why did they put the Brozza in the ejector seat? The main reason was apparently Eon finally aquiring the rights to Ian Fleming's first Bond novel Casino Royale. Co-producer Michael G Wilson had floated a 'young Bond' film in 1986 and been vetoed by Cubby Broccoli, who promptly hired fortysomething Timothy Dalton. Broccoli felt that Bond should always be an established agent with a bit of maturity and that audiences would not appreciate James Bond being depicted as an amateur.

Obviously, Brosnan was not much of a fit for a James Bond prequel. Eon looked to tie Casino Royale into Wilson's long held 'Bond begins' idea. That meant a new James Bond actor. Soon everyone from Martin Campbell to Paul Haggis was talking about how the next James Bond film would be very radical and feature a 28 year-old 007.

Sounded good to me.

The major problem with Casino Royale for this James Bond nerd was the casting of 38 year-old Daniel Craig as the 'young' Bond. At times, the actor doesn't even look 38 in the film let alone 28. This contradiction was something that bugged me. Yes, they changed Bond's age to fit in with the casting on the official website and so on, but I was still left with an impression of that in this one Bond is a young whippersnapper on his first mission despite the fact that the actor playing him looks ancient compared to the other Bond actors in their first film! 

The film still holds to the premise that our craggy new Bond is fresh into the 00-section. He has much to learn, makes mistakes, and is altogether more stroppy and moody than previous cinematic Bonds, with the possible exception of Timothy Dalton. If Bond is a fantasy figure and you love the gadgets, humour and campy pop-culture escapism, you may be disappointed. If you are ready for a new approach, influenced very heavily by the Jason Bourne films, then Eon have provided that. It is best to consider this as the first entry in a brand new series.

caterina munro

Fleming's cold war espionage novel accounts for a portion of the film. It is of course updated and tweaked. The double-entrendres and innuendo that has plagued recent entries were absent but Paul Haggis approaches James Bond in a very earnest way. I found some of the dialogue frankly bizarre. "That's because you know what I can do with my little finger..." and "If you had just been born wouldn't you be naked?" It's almost as if someone was trying to come up with a more intelligent way of writing a double-entendre. The end result was several lines that didn't make any sense whatsoever. The humourless script, riding roughshod over the history established in the series, sucked a lot of the fun out of a series of films I've always loved for their charm, panache and escapism. I don't mind a more grounded film but I feel that if you take it too seriously you miss the whole point of a James Bond film. Part of this is tied into Daniel Craig. He deserves credit for taking the role seriously and obviously put a lot into the film, but his anguished acting style made the film harder work for me than it should have been. Most of us were agreed that he was the 'strong cheese' option in 2006 and he still is in my opinion. Like many Bond films, Casino Royale is also a bit too long.

The poker scenes in Casino Royale have been criticised but they didn't bother me that much. It was a wise decision to update to Hold'em. It's the only poker I've ever played so at least I sort of knew what was going on. Jeffrey Wright does well as Felix Leiter but Le Chiffre was rather bland. Judi Dench has probably overstayed her welcome as M for this James Bond fan, but she appears to be a fixture for the forseeable future. The absence of Q and Moneypenny was understandable perhaps although I'd like to think these characters will return in the future.

Casino Royale seeks a more 'realistic' 007 and they do that to a point but after a foot-chase that rivals anything in recent Bond films for lack of credibility. I liked the photography and the look of some of the film, especially towards the end, but Martin Campbell isn't my favourite director. Great at action, not so great with the static conventional scenes. Casino Royale does look suitably stylish in places.

The torture scenes were negated by being saddled with some supposedly 'funny' lines from Bond. He recovers, decides he loves Vesper and then discovers she was working for Le Chiffre before she drowns herself in Venice, despite his best efforts to save her. I should add that the details of Lynd's betrayal and the mysterious Mr White and his organisation are vague. Elements are left in the air for a continuation film; a rarity in the Bond series.

One of the first meetings between Bond and Vesper is atrocious. A cack-handed scene on a train where they try to analyze each other in a game of one-upmanship. Daniel Craig is much better at the action than scenes where he has to display a lightness of touch. Your reaction to Casino Royale depends very much on your reaction to Daniel Craig. For me personally, the whole charm of the James Bond series was in the sophisticated handsome devil hero, a unique counter-point to the everyman heroes in vests and dirty shirts found in other films. This is lost with Daniel Craig and I found it disappointing that Eon could not have 'grounded' the series with a younger actor who looked more like James Bond. If Craig's wrinkly mug represents Ian Fleming's James Bond then either the world has gone mad or I have. He falls short in projecting the urbane, refined qualities I always presumed were supposed to be part of the point - and fun -  of James Bond. 
Daniel Craig, James Bond

Like many Bond fans I found myself following the production of Casino Royale more closely than previous Bonds and for this reason the film didn't have any major suprises. Without this scrutiny on my part and with a different actor I might well have been much more enthusiastic. When I first heard about the plans for Casino Royale I pictured a young Bond, perhaps in the Royal Navy for a sequence. I was disappointed by how little the film lived up to my initial enthusiasm. The other thing that I wasn't really thrilled about was the whole 'pretend this is the first time you've ever met James Bond' aspect to the film. It sounded fun at first, the thought of finding out how specific tastes and talents became a part of his character. In the film it soon became slightly flimsy. Am I really meant to believe that a 38 year-old James Bond has to be taught about dinner-jackets by Vesper Lynd? He did go to Public School and Oxford, right?
Eva Green

Eva Green makes a striking Vesper Lynd but doesn't have a huge amount of chemistry with Daniel Craig. The film does though flow a bit better than recent Bond films with fewer action scenes to insert. I feel the film could have been cut back a little in length and introduced Vesper in a better way. While the goal of making Bond a bit more hard-hitting was a good one, the close-quarter fight scenes are not up to the fights staged in the Jason Bourne films. All three Bourne films take a pee on Casino Royale from a decent height. Bond should be Bond and Bourne should be Bourne but Bond's latest rival casts a heavy shadow. A shot of a train racing through the countryside reminds you of a near identical shot in The Bourne Identity. You can't help wondering if Eon were worried about their franchise looking a bit twee in the modern action landscape.

The decision not to use the Bond theme, like the absence of Q and Moneypenny, I can understand, but it does all serve to make Casino Royale a strange experience. Some people like the changes but it all left me rather cold. I admire the attempt to throw the formula up in the air but I wasn't too convinced that it landed in the right place.

It'll be interesting to see what happens next but I'm afraid I miss the old Bond already.

As far as the James Bond series goes, I prefer the oldies.


c 2008 Alternative 007