So let's get the history out of the way shall we? Daniel Craig has arrived as the new Bond and he received an Aston Martin full of criticism when he did. He's Blond, can't drive a manual car, he looks too rugged, blah de blah…What everyone seemed to be forgetting is something called acting.
Well all that began to pass the press by as we began to hear more and more about the film, and then when that trailer came out something notably shifted. Opinion swayed towards him, and the glimpses of action and his performance were something special.
Now I've seen the film I am probably close to saying that this could be one of the best Bond films yet, and he's definitely just arrived in the top three Bond's of all time. However, the film had a few problems despite being that good.
First of all, usual thanks to the superb Ocean Vue Cinema in Edinburgh who were gracious enough to help me see this film for review. Great cinema, great hotdogs, and real film fans there.
This film works on two levels. It appeals to the new generation of thriller fans, those who are more into the Bourne type spy thrillers. Films which deliver continual action and suspense and that are firmly grounded in reality without gadgets and futuristic toys. No these guys are hard and in your face, and they can, and do, kill if they need to.
The second, and most entertaining level, is for those Bond fans out there. The film shows us how all those classic Bond signatures came about, the style, the lines, the attitude, the drink, the Aston Martin, and so on. There are many nods to the franchise throughout the film that for someone who knows Bond are very satisfying and hugely entertaining to see.
Casino Royale is the story of how James Bond becomes a ‘00’ agent and his first assignment as such. It’s how he moves from a standard British agent who is quite self-obsessed, to the beginnings of the deadly agent known as 007. Through the story we see how the character develops and begins to come to the surface, we get to understand the human side of the character and the origins of Bond.
The first thing I really need to cover here, since I opened with the criticism of Craig, is how well he does in the role. I first really noticed him in Layer Cake (review), and he was superb, he blew me away with his performance. So how does he do with the well worn franchise of Bond, the character that has been so firmly imprinted by so many other actors?
The truth is he almost blows them all away with his performance. He’s helped by the superb story of the birth of Bond, and some spectacular writing, but Craig is most definitely the man who belongs in that role. His roughness that so much of the press criticised him for is perfect for the part. He is a typical “blunt instrument” or hard man who is just beginning on his journey to become the smooth, soave and in control 007.
I always like that roughness and the chink of humanity in Timothy Dalton’s Bond, his idea to seek revenge, an anger that made him less than perfect. I also loved the style of Roger Moore’s Bond, where he seemed much more hands on and willing to fight and get his hands dirty than use gadgets or stand back and watch.
What we see with Craig’s Bond are both these traits pulled into a humanised and quite grounded character. This Bond is real, you could believe he’s a real person, and as his character progresses, everything about him may step up a few levels but it’s all still grounded firmly in reality.
This is more than the Bond character, this is the man that has hidden for so long behind the name, and Craig brings him to life superbly. He honestly doesn’t put a foot wrong through the whole film and the delivery of some of his lines is just perfection.
He’s not the only one that’s superbly cast, everyone is in this film and seeing Judi Dench in the role as ‘M’ you understand why she couldn’t have been replaced and why they messed up the timeline for her. She really is ‘M’, and she’s taken that role and made it her own. She starts as the tough and demanding boss, but later on there are a few chinks of caring, a sort of parental concern that ties the characters together wonderfully.
Chemistry is abundant in this film, and not just between Craig, Eva Green and his other affair Caterina Murino. They all play wonderfully together, and although I’m no great fan of Green, I think she acted superbly and gave a great performance.
That chemistry is also apparent between Craig and Mads Mikkelsen who plays the Bond baddie Le Chiffre. It’s quite a nice touch that they gave him a facial scar, but it’s also a very good choice to ground him as much as they did Bond. He’s another real baddie. Someone you could believe is out there doing exactly what he’s doing right now. To have made any of these characters slightly more fanciful and more typical Bond would have seriously detracted from the tale.
One of the best scenes between these two, apart from the poker bluffing, is the stunning torture sequence. It’s hard to believe that they managed to bring this scene to the film so intact, it’s tough and it explains so much about the two characters, particularly Bond. This is the reality of torture, there aren’t any sharks or timed lasers, there’s brutal pain and slow deaths.
The story itself is excellent, and stands alone amongst the top five Bond films, the action sequences for the most part are superbly visualised and brought to the screen. They’ve done something that is so missing from most action sequences, continuity for the audience.
With Bourne, and I’m so outspoken on this one, you can hardly make out what’s going on, mainly because they are hiding what the actors can’t do. There’s too much shaking camera, fast cuts, with the camera is focused too closely on the action, for the most part your brain is only filling in what happened after you see the conclusion. Oh, so they were running through the streets of Paris and that was a Policeman chasing him, or he did manage to kill the other guy before the car crashed…although I have no idea really how.
However in Casino Royale they manage to keep the action sequences real, hands on, and with the actors, all the while keeping the camera pulled back and the cuts long enough for you to process what’s happening, with whom, and where, before leaping to the next scene. This adds another layer of reality, so we see Bond racing up the arm of the crane knowing that this is leading him up to the top of the steel framework where the baddie is currently climbing. The continuity and understanding for the audience is in every scene, not made up at the end once the action is over. Well done to Martin Campbell for that.
I feel that this is a huge benefit to the film, and adds so much to your enjoyment of the action sequences, instead of playing catch up, you’re involved in every single scene, and that helps build tension and drama superbly.
However, as much as I can praise that style – and this is where the first negative of the film comes in – they failed to retain it during the final action sequence. The camera comes in close, the cuts are fast and shoot between too many different points of action, and the location is dark. This means the audience aren’t with the action as it happens and are playing catch up when the camera settles on shot for a moment longer.
It’s a shame because every other action sequence in this film grabs you, pulls you right in, and pushes your tension buttons right to the very last frame.
The really great part of this entire film is the script. There are some excellent lines that touch on the old Bond and marry that with the reality of this new Bond. It’s sharp and to the point, with the witticisms dropped in favour of emotionally strong moments and some surprisingly tender ones.
The shower scene is perhaps the best, and worst, example of this. Vesper is sitting underneath the shower, fully clothed, trying to recover from the fact that she’s just helped Bond kill someone and watched as he died. Bond comes in, sits beside her beneath the shower and asks her if she’s cold, she nods, and he puts his hand to the shower. He turns it to warm and holds her.
I loved the subtlety of that moment, although for the most part this is an action thriller, this moment fits well with the pacing and the development, so don’t be scared, this is not an all emotional Bond film, and he’s still very much a man’s man.
I did say this was also the moment that showed the worst of the script, and to be honest I think this is one of the two moments where the script does fail to deliver. As she complains that there’s blood on her hands he decides to suck her fingers to remove the imaginary blood. Now you know what they’re trying to do, but it just seems sleazy and really doesn’t work. Strangely it seems like a clumsy egotistical male scripted the last half of the scene, whereas the exact opposite scripted the first half.
The other place that the script lets itself down could also be attributed to the editing and direction. From the convalescing scene right through to the waking in the Venice hotel room we’re treated to three or four different scenes that all say the same thing. Bond is okay, they are both in love, rewind and repeat. There’s nothing else to say and we’re treated to something that should belong on the original Bond films, the beautifully set, post war, montage of love scenes. At this stage it feels out of place and far too late, it’s the wrong film and three scenes too many.
This could have been cut down to leaping from the story reveal in the rest home to the sailing into Venice. That was all that was needed, and now we find the pace of the story falters and our interest wanes.
However things pick up again and we’re back into the new Bond.
So to surmise that lengthy diatribe about the film, and please excuse me if I have rambled but I did feel that I had a lot to say about this film, I loved it. There are a couple of faults but they are utterly forgivable when you consider the superb scripting, great direction, extremely strong action sequences, and the wonderful acting.
Craig is Bond, and is perhaps sitting at second or third on my all time favourite list right now. By the time we’ve seen the next film I fear he might be fighting for top place.
This is the Bond we want to see in today’s world. He’s a perfect mix of reality and fantasy, and with the multiple nods to the franchise, and a very well scripted complex plot, this is a treat of a film that you’ll enjoy a second or third time without losing interest.
Well done Craig.