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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Movies: Casino Royale

I have waited to review this film because I wanted to give myself time to process it a little bit.
I am a fan, sometimes begrudgingly, of the James Bond franchise of films. I am also a big fan of Pierce Brosnan, and I don’t care for the manner in which he was “let go” from the series. As I understand it, he had to find out from a reporter. This is not the way that you treat the man who basically revived the series that had floundered with an aging Roger Moore and an oddly uncharismatic Timothy Dalton. Now, Mr. Brosnan had said that he only intended to make one more Bond film anyway, and, upon finding out that his services would no longer be required, expressed disappointment but also relief at no longer having to say all of those cheesy one-liners.
The internet was a-buzz with rumors of the Bond successor: Clive Owen, Adrian Paul, Hugh Jackman, Colin Farrell, and many other names were bandied about.
Finally it was announced that the plan was to go the Batman Begins route, and take us to James Bond’s very first mission as a “double-o,” adapting the first Ian Fleming novel about the dashing 007, Casino Royale. (Casino Royale had only been previously utilized in a TV screenplay in which James Bond was an American, and in a 1967 spoof of the Bond films starring Woody Allen, David Niven, and Peter Sellers.)
A younger, less-experienced James Bond? Cool. Orlando Bloom’s name started to circulate. Christian Bale’s and Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s names came up as well.
Then, at last, the announcement came. The new James Bond would be Daniel Craig. Daniel Craig? Bond fans were up in arms.
“He’s too short!” they cried. Craig is 5’ 11,” which does put him a couple inches shorter than the average Bond.
“He’s blond!” they exclaimed. Well, in that Casino Royale teleplay I mentioned, Bond was a blond. Also, Roger Moore definitely qualified as a “light brunette.”
“He’s ugly!” Okay, that’s just not nice. But I get their point. Ian Fleming had written Bond as strikingly, dashingly handsome. Craig, while ruggedly good-looking, has more the look of a pugilist. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a sexy leading man, but I do think that it means he shouldn’t be Bond.
What troubled me was, that if this was to be an “origin” story, there were two glaringly obvious flaws.
First, Dame Judi Dench was still going to play M, even though she was introduced in GoldenEye as a successor to the previous M.
Also, Daniel Craig was 38, and looked it -- at least. Pierce Brosnan had been just 42 (and looked much younger) when he assumed the role in 1995. By the time Connery was 38, he had made five Bond films and “retired” from the role. He had to be begged back to make Diamonds Are Forever when he was 40. (Never Say Never Again was made outside of the official Bond franchise as a response to Roger Moore’s lackluster and, frankly, silly interpretation of the role. Even then, Connery was just 52, and didn’t look it.)
To say that I was reticent to see this movie would be something of an understatement. It was the first Bond film since I was able to buy my own ticket that I did not see on its opening week-end.
First, let me say what I liked about this movie. I liked that the “cheesy one-liners” had been minimized. I really liked that the CGI-heavy effects of Die Another Day had given way to more traditional stunts, particularly in the spectacular chase scene through a construction site. I liked the tighter feel of the film. There was a lot less “grand-standing” in terms of set design and action sequences.
What didn’t I like? Not much, really. There was a slightly prolonged and maudlin sequence after the torture scene, but, overall, I thought this was a very good movie. I just didn’t think it was a James Bond movie. Daniel Craig is an intense and charming actor (though a bit mush-mouthed at times), but is just too brutish to be Bond. The movie itself was a bit too dark and barbarous to really be effective as a 007 film. This might as well have been a gangster film about a hit man for the English mob.
Minimizing the cheesy dialogue and the corny effects was a step in the right direction. I don’t see why they couldn’t have simply done that with the next Pierce Brosnan film. I liked the idea of the “origin” film, though, too. I wish that they had really followed through on that idea. I don’t consider casting an actor six years older than the Dr. No Sean Connery as “following through.”
My advice? Put the Bond franchise to bed for a little while. The six-year gap between License To Kill and GoldenEye was just the break that audiences needed to forget how lousy Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton had been and how silly the series had become. Don’t alter the character and the feel of the films just because movies like Layer Cake and Sexy Beast have been so popular. Give us time to miss James Bond. Then bring him back as the icon that Sean Connery made him with an actor who embodies the character as well as Pierce Brosnan did.