Monday, 3 September 2012

BlogalongaBond #21 - Casino Royale (2006)

(Here is a link to a revised version of my IMDb review of Casino Royale, November 2006)

... and then, suddenly, we are bang up to date. Pierce Brosnan's tenure ends with a whimper, the old-school urbanity of Bond, whatever its incarnation, proving an anachronism in the lightning-speed terror-and-response secret security of the Noughties. Jason Bourne was the new realism of 2002. The Bond franchise, not for the first time, found itself playing catch-up.

Barabara Broccoli must have been overjoyed at the initial response to Daniel Craig's appointment as the new James Bond. The cybernetic groaning of the self-appointed custodians of a fictional misogynist hero is perverse but clear approval. And in case anyone might have missed the message, Casino Royale opens with a remarkable (but just-credible) parkour sequence that sees Craig run - in a t-shirt - more than Brosnan did in all four of his films.

Of course there's more. Craigbond doesn't order some classic Martini but has his own recipe, with a double-kill to tradition by scuttling the 'shaken not stirred' cue. Neither is the Aston Martin DB5 gifted, but rather won at a blackjack table. The tuxedo isn't that of his tailors but chosen by the girl and he's prepared to take it. And when asked about his wristwatch... well, let's just say he channels Frank Booth: 'Rolex? Fuck that shit! O-Me-Ga!'

When I first saw Casino Royale, I didn't really get it. It still sits awkwardly atop the first Greengrass Bourne movie of two years before and the rest of the Bond canon, like a kid standing on a tall stone monument in rollerskates. As an entity in itself, which is how anyone should judge it, Casino Royale is a success and almost entirely because of the force of personality of its principal.

There's also some genuine darkness. The curse of any sequel is for its director to insist on 'darkening' the character. Well, Lee Tamahori had a good shot at this with the opening titles of the previous film but really that was quite sanitized. In fact, Casino Royale takes on where the implied drama of the early, successful episodes of the TV spy show Spooks left off, with steps into the shades of the imagination rather than reiteration of familiar horrors. I saw Casino Royale sitting behind a family with an infant son, who will have been traumatised by Bond having his nether regions flagellated. Bond sustains his own trauma not only in the loss of Vesper but also in its manner, as she (at the time) inexplicably drowns herself.

Ah, Vesper. Eva Green clips her English a bit but is otherwise unimpeachable as the complicated girl Bond cannot resist. The trick to a good Bond girl is that we can't resist her either, that she transcends the skirt role. The trauma of her self-extinguishing at the end is just as sharp for the audience. This is when I got the film the second time. Bond names his Martini the Vesper not just in homage to the woman but also in recognition of his own epicureanism. With her demise that celebration of high taste curdles into an existential necessity, like the violent diminishing of a junkie's hit. And perhaps this is also the black heart of the Bond phenomenon too, reflected in its Montenegrin cradle - that the value of everything, including life, is only recognisable at that moment when it's possible to lose it.

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