Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Casino Royale

I realise that I hadn't gotten around to writing a review of "Casino Royale," which is a glaring omission for a spy fan such as myself.

All in all, I liked it very much. The film both returns to Bond's roots as a "blunt instrument" as Fleming had his Bond refer to himself, and updates his orgins to the modern day, wherein instruments are rather more blunt and brutal than was admitted to in Fleming's time. In the new MI-5, "double-o" status is earned by having killed twice in the line of duty. The pre-credit sequence shows us Bond "making his bones" in the course of one mission, one killing in a brutal and desperate fight scene, and one a cool assassination. The violence in this version of Bond tends to be brutish and messy. Bond is an all-in brawler with a killer instinct--no choreographed karate ballets here. Daniel Craig suits this characterization very well. Vesper Lynde (Eva Green) refers to him as one of those "Special Air Service types, with a ready smile and a complex wristwatch." Craig's muscular physique (shown in considerable detail in the torture scene) smacks more of the weight bench and the drill field than the leaner "Commander Bond" of Sean Connery's day. Indeed, Bond is pretty much a super-human as shown by the lengthy "free running/parkour" sequence that starts Bond into the main action of the story, wherein, while pursuing a terrorist suspect, he scales a construction site, makes multiple multi-story drops/leaps, and and chases the man (who also is inhumanly tough) a good mile without being winded. This exceptional stamina shows up again when he is poisoned to the point of requiring electrical defibrillation, and then gets up and goes back to the card table as though nothing had happened.

I was pleased by the updating of Fleming's storyline. Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen)is an international banker for terrorists, thugs, and dictators, who is not above using his underworld connections to attempt to manipulate the stock market for his own gain. When Bond foils one of his plots, he resorts to an international high-stakes poker tourney in order to recoup his losses. I was not initially thrilled by the change from Fleming's baccarat to "Texas hold'em", but I have to say that it worked well. There is actually a bit more strategic opportunity for betting and bluffing in poker than baccarat, which adds to the plot.

The storyline essentially follows Fleming's novel from there on, with a few key twists, notably dealing with Vesper Lynde, which I shall not reveal for the sake of those that have not seen the movie and may wish to. I do want to comment at more length on both the card game and the torture scene after the cut.

There were some very interesting additional variations on the Bond traditions: the main title sequence was a particularly beautiful card-themed montage (Georgie said: "Worth the price of admission alone.") but lacking any female silhouettes, which have always been a feature in the past. The signature line, "Bond's the name, James Bond" and the classic "Bond in Action" theme do not appear until the end--marking Bond's true transition into the world of the double-o agent.

The film was very gadget-light, the only major one being the Aston-Martin equipped with the aforementioned defibrillator and a very special version of "Onstar--".

Very good and creepy performance by Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, aided by some very effective makeup. One point I wish the writer's had left out: in Fleming, Le Chiffre uses a Benzedrine inhaler--essentially, "speed". The film changed this to something that looks like a common albuterol inhaler used by people with asthma, which robbed it of its character point that Le Chiffre is a drug user in addition to his other unpleasant characteristics. Eva Green was quite effective as Vesper Lynde, and veteran actor Giancarlo Giannini was very good as Mathis, the resident agent in Montenegro. (I'm not sure why the action was moved from Monte Carlo to Montenegro, except that the Balkan states are a bit more plausible location for Le Chiffre's brand of thuggery these days--). And as ever, the principals were well supported by a cast of expert stunt performers--.

All in all, a very worthy addition to the Bond canon. I would recommend your young spy fans stay home, due to the level of violence.

Spoilers follow:

Poker quibble:

Although the writers did a fairly good job of showing the strategy and tactics of hold'em poker, there's a rather questionable point at one of the critical turns in the poker showdown: Bond is lead to believe Le Chiffre is bluffing and goes "all in" only to be defeated by Le Chiffre's strong hand. He then gets verbal strips torn off him by Vesper for having "arrogantly" lost the agency's money. The trouble is, Bond also had a very strong hand, one on which I think most poker players would have confidently bet the farm. It would have been more effective had Bond had a good, but not great hand, to underscore that he only went all in because he was sure Le Chiffre had nothing.

Torture quibbles:

OK, I've never really believed in the torture scene as written by Fleming, even though one suspects Fleming had heard of or seen something like it from World War II or the early Cold War. In the book, Le Chiffre uses a wire carpet beater on Bond's genitals, which would be painful and damaging enough, but rigged up in some way to be activated like a foot pedal, which I never thought would actually deliver much force. In the movie, Le Chiffre administers his beating with the knotted end of a thick rope, which, while a formidable instrument, would deliver quite a different kind of blow. Instead of the cutting, whipping injury, what we see is more the equivalent of getting a kick or swift punch to the scrotum. We again see Bond the superman here: while he shows pain, it's the wrong KIND of pain. As most men know, a blow to this area causes a most unique sickening kind of sensation, doubling over, instinctive guarding gestures, loss of breath, and urge to vomit. Admittedly, tied to a chair as he is, Bond can't do much of that, but trying to would have been more effective than throwing back his head and howling as he does. I think it might have added some realism had Bond, who had a) been drinking, b) been poisoned, and c) knocked out in a car crash just prior, thrown up on Le Chiffre's shoes, or at least done some heavy drooling down his shiny, shaven chest, but I guess that's not glamourous enough. And being concerned about glamour when you're being tortured is the true mark of a double-o agent. Or at least of his writers, directors and producers.
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