Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Casino Royale, With Cheese: Took a few weeks, but The Skirt and I went to see it last night. I read the book a couple weeks ago (I forgot just how short it, and most other Bond books, was) so I could nitpick it thoroughly. No point in doing that here, though, since Eno would probably still correct me on most of it, if he's still alive that is. I'll just give it the broad brush review, for posterity.

It's so close to being a good movie (Bond or otherwise) that I say it's definitely worth watching, if you haven't already. Daniel Craig pulls off the role just fine, and the reboot to a more authentic, more cold-blooded Bond is, as expected, refreshing. There's still a wry humor, and a vulnerability displayed in the book, that makes Bond more than just a killer, but make no bones about it, Double-O's ain't State Dept. careerists (or the British equivalent, I guess).

But the movie overdoes it considerably. In past movies, Bond is given every gadget imaginable, to the point where he can fly, quite literally. In this one, he may doesn't even need the gadgets. Surely any man with this much testosterone can fly by mere force of will, right? This is part of the modern action movie problem, though, that anything that can be done with stuntmen, camera angles, computers, closed sets and endless planning and rehearsal makes for a perfectly logical sequence. Forget the old action movie nitpicking (how many bullets are in that six-shooter, anyway), heroes these days really do live and work in "The Matrix", or so it seems. But that's criticism of the genre as a whole, not of Casino Royale in particular, so I'll let it go for another time.

The real question is, how true to the book, and Bond in general, does it stay. Well, for about two thirds of the second half it stays about 50% true to the general essential narrative concept, while by no means being all anal about getting the details right. And that doesn't bother me, necessarily, although I wish that where they'd deviated from the book they'd have at least gotten the details of the new bit right. For instance, I'm not bothered with the switch to Hold 'Em Poker from Chemin de Fer as the game central to the story. It's a modernized take on the story, and, for better or worse, Hold 'Em's the game today. But the mechanics of the game were off in many parts,, most importantly the climactic final hand. Le Chifre would never have pushed all his chips in under those circumstances. He believes he has the hand won, naturally, Bond has made his bet and Le Chifre must call. Two words, "I call," or simply revealing his cards and saying "Waddya got?" would have sufficed, and if he wins the game is over. There's no need to actually push the chips to the center of the table. Also, due to the other players in the hand, the dealer really should have made it clear what the side pots were and how much was at stake if they won. It's a pretty complicated final hand, and you better believe they would have been clear about the details at a real table.

The last 20 minutes feels like they crammed way too much in but were determined to keep from hitting the 2 1/2 hour mark. I understand they needed a final action sequence for the climax, but this was a joke. Again, modern action movie kripe, but my hope was that they'd gotten that out of the way in the first half. And the very end, well that was just stupid. Bond would never have sought revenge for Vesper's death, unless it was part of larger mission. It wasn't worth the risk, and besides, "The bitch is dead" pretty much sums it up. It's not "The bitch is dead, and now I'll go seeking out her killer to ease the pain in my heart." Fuck that, she betrayed him. She's not coming back, so why make apologies for her.

Another quibble - the gadgets. There aren't many, which is good, but the one they choose to highlight is about as lame a gadget as Bond's ever had, in any movie. I can barely mention it, because of how lame it is and not wanting to spoil it for those who haven't seen the movie, but let's just say this particular device, kept in the glove compartment of his Aston Martin, shouldn't be a part of James Bond's kit until he's a doddering old geezer, watching his diet and popping pills for high blood pressure. I mean come on, that's where buttons for oil slicks and smoke screens should be, not Bond's emergency medic kit. And it added a worthless 10 minutes to the movie, all to get one passably glib Bond line crammed into the game - "That last hand...just made me sick."

Despite all that, parts of the movie are a rush that make you chomp the popcorn in a way no Bond movie ever has. The opening sequence is fantastic, shot in black and white with short flashbacks to Bond's first "kill." Very cool. Bond as a character is as good as he's ever been, as tough as Connery without all the slapping around of his female co-star (hey, I said it was modernized, didn't I). The stunts are over the top, but dorky gadgets are kept out of it (with the one awful exception) so that evens things out. There's lots that's not in the book (like the first hour), but if you stick to the book's narrative entirely you're left with a 45 minute movie about a card game and a lot of ordering dinner with the fussiness Meg Ryan. Surely we can't be expected to sit through that in the name of accuracy. I don't know if anyone will ever get it right, especially since that means a lot of different things depending on who you ask, but this is the first worthwhile effort in many years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is Razor (I can't find my password apparently) I saw the movie 2x. I enjoyed it very much, but agree that the producers went too far with the Blonde Bond. He's the Timex Bond -- takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Bond was never described by Fleming as having anything remotely resembling a fit body -- rather, he developed his muscles at the cocktail circuit. However, in today's age, I understand it is necessary to draw the female viewers in one way or another, and having Craig strip down to his teeny bathing costume is certainly one way to do it (he does have quite the bod).

I disliked having Hold 'Em being the game. Having the Montonegren dealer say things like "head's up" etc. was cheesy. I preferred hearing things like "neuf a la banc" -- I had no idea what it meant, but it sounded cool. Plus the play was stilted. Bond says early on how you play the player, not the cards, yet he wins on a straight flush -- as if anyone could possibly lose with such a hand! Where were the mind-games? Sure there was some early issues with Le Chiffre having a "tell" but really, it was amateur hour.

Next time -- more car chases (quite the Aston Martin), less knotty ropes to the balls).