Sunday, November 19, 2006

Movie Review: CASINO ROYALE

I remember vividly that Saturday in May 1965. I was ten. Decelerating from a Friday-night sleepover at my house, two pals and I were making my dear mother nuts. So she shoved a few bucks into our pockets, threw us into the station wagon, then dumped us curbside in front of the La Reina theater on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, promising to come back for us after the matinee. The movie was Goldfinger. To her dying day, I don’t think Mom ever fully understood the impact that afternoon had on me. Fast cars. Faster women. It was all earth-shattering.

Three months later, United Artists re-released a doublebill of the first two James Bond movies, Dr. No and From Russia with Love. I caught up, and my infatuation for Bond grew. But by Christmas that same year, Thunderball was in theaters, and even at my tender age, I sensed that 007 had already begun playing second fiddle to the gadgets. And so it generally went for the next 41 years.

There have been a few attempts to bring Bond “back to basics”: 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the first non-Connery 007 movie, with George Lazenby), 1981’s For Your Eyes Only (with Roger Moore), and 1989’s License to Kill (with the underappreciated Timothy Dalton). I admire all three of those films, and still think that had it starred Connery, Majesty’s would even now be widely considered the best of the original 20 in the series.

But now here’s Casino Royale, not only a “back to basics” 007 movie with a new Bond but a total reboot of the franchise (akin to last year’s Batman Begins relaunch of the Batman series). Does it work? You bet your sweet Aston Martin, it does. And for the first time since that afternoon way back in 1965, I can’t wait to see Bond’s next screen adventure.

Everything works in Casino Royale. Everything. Most important, Daniel Craig works as Bond. He comes closer to Ian Fleming’s original concept of the character than most of his predecessors. He’s ruthless, like Connery. He’s charismatic without being a pretty boy, like Connery. And he’s got a witty, offhand charm, like Connery. Hell, he’s the best thing to come down the pike since Connery. But he’s still his own Bond. He’s cocky, but he can still get, well, really shaken. He’s confident but never over-confidant. And he bleeds. Craig’s Bond really gets the shit kicked out of him in this new movie. And I was scared to death for him, more so than I’ve been since Connery fought Robert Shaw in that train compartment in From Russia with Love. Craig rocks, and I can’t wait to see more of him.

Casino Royale is also the most faithful adaptation from the original source material ever. The movie is necessarily and effectively fleshed out from the 1953 novel, which was really little more than a novella. But remarkably, the film lifts many lines directly from the book. The characters are all here; it was good to see Felix Leiter again after, oh, 17 years. And Le Chiffre’s memorable (and grueling) torture of 007 remains intact. The only slightly bothersome deviation from the novel is the change from the fascinatingly obscure baccarat to the more common poker. But now I’m just being fussy.

Casino Royale will, I think, be recognized years from now as a high-water mark, a real turning point in the 007 franchise. It is James Bond genuinely reborn. But what’s most startling to me is that Casino Royale isn’t just a great 007 film. It’s a great film...period.

9 Comments:

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Tom Ender said...

Although I loved all the Fleming Bond books (I still have those yellowed paperbacks), I really liked Casino Royale best. Next best was On Her Majesty's Secret Service and that movie even had Diana Rigg. Although Lazenby was good, he wasn't Connery.

I suspect that like you, although I would later come to understand that I probably shouldn't like Bond (state assassin, etc.), I thought Connery's 007 was "cool" in a way that no one else was at the time. (Well, maybe Peter Gunn, but that was even earlier.)

 
At 4:32 PM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

You're right, of course, that I've had to overlook the fact that 007 is an agent of the State for many, many years. But by the time I turned radical libertarian, I'd already been a Bond fan for going on six years. Too late. (At least Peter Gunn was a PRIVATE eye.)

 
At 10:47 PM, Anonymous GreginOz said...

Is Casino Royale (the book) the one where Bond is tied to a cane chair naked, with dangly bits threatened by a cane? Brrrrr, that image stuck in my mind all these years. PS up yer alley Wal
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At 5:39 AM, Anonymous tom novak said...

I have an original Thunderball movie poster! But as for the books, Live and Let Die is my favorite - or maybe Diamonds are Forever, oh okay. I've no idea which one is my favorite. That Ian Fleming was a great writer.

Heck, I'd sign up today to be an agent of the state like Felix Leiter if I could drive a convertible 1953 Studillac.

 
At 11:46 PM, Blogger Mupetblast said...

That was a very well written review. You ever thought of submitting this kind of thing to the local paper?

 
At 8:22 PM, Anonymous Jim Voris said...

(Spoiler warning). I also really enjoyed the movie, but in hindsight, thought they should have rolled credits when Bond and the girl were on the beach after he had submitted his resignation.... with the teaser: "To be continued...". Then the next movie would have the same Bond girl (a first for Bond girls, since she is special). Had they filmed both at the same time, they could have released the 2nd movie in the spring...

 
At 8:05 AM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

"they should have rolled credits when Bond and the girl were on the beach after he had submitted his resignation.... with the teaser: "To be continued..."."

Jim, I'm afraid I can't imagine anything that would have pissed me off more.

 
At 4:18 PM, Blogger Adolfo Castellon said...

The only James Bond story for which Albert Broccoli never obtained the rights is Casino Royale. Those are held by Charles Feldman, who, following the success of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger, decided that he wanted to make his own Bond film. After commissioning a script, he began casting. When attempts to "borrow" Sean Connery from Broccoli came to naught, Feldman decided on a radical change in tone. Instead of making Casino Royale a "straight" movie, he chose to attempt a parody.casino on line
The opening is promising. We are introduced to the "real" Sir James Bond (David Niven), a retired "pure spy" who is horrified by the outrageous activities of the agent currently assigned his name and number. M (John Huston) appeals for Bond's return to active duty. Spies all over the world are being killed, and the governments of the Soviet Union, France, the United States, and England have temporarily set aside their differences to combat SMERSH, the criminal organization suspected of the murders. At first, Bond refuses, but, after M is killed, he changes his mind and agrees to come back.
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