A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 547 – James Bond: Casino Royale (2006)

James Bond: Casino Royale (2006) – August 29th, 2011

I have an admission to make: I have never watched a Bond movie from start to finish. Cue the gasps of horror. I know. It’s one of those things I always mean to do and never get around to. I’d be most interested in seeing the Connery movies, because Sean Connery is fucking awesome and I love him. But while I’ve seen bits and pieces and I’ve absorbed much of the tone and concept and character through cultural osmosis, until this movie I had no sat down to watch a full Bond flick. I will say, I’ve also gotten some assumptions in my head about how female characters in said movies are treated, and that’s a bit of a turn-off, but I was game for this tonight.

Alas, I found my assumptions were still somewhat justified. While there were no naked female silhouettes during the opening credits, the female characters with lines were treated pretty much the way I expect. Oh, the female lead, Vesper, gets more than a few good lines and moments, but in the end we’re talking doomed femme fatales. And M. But I dare someone to try and make Judi Dench a doomed femme fatale. She would kick the ass of anyone who attempted it and I would cheer her on. Anyhow, I didn’t expect there to be any more than what I got and what I did get was much better than what it could have been, it’s just frustrating.

Moving on. The point of the movie is, obviously, James Bond himself, being awesome and kicking ass in a multitude of ways and getting the job done. A job with high stakes and lots of bad guys and guns and money and so on and so forth. In this particular movie the story is about terrorists planning bombings and Bond tracking down who’s responsible for funding them and what larger plans and conspiracies they have in place. And how does Bond achieve his goals of thwarting terrorism? By chasing people through crowded streets, sleeping with his target’s girlfriend, enduring torture and playing poker. If it wasn’t done as well as it has been and if it wasn’t one of the origins of the super suave spy, it would be amusing. All that, and he looks good in a tux.

So, there’s a lot of action, with chases and fights and Bond generally being multitalented and clever and skilled at all manner of actiony things, like shooting guns and driving vehicles and fighting hand to hand. And then there’s the card game. At one point earlier in the movie Bond establishes himself as a good poker player, winning a car off of one of the baddies in a game. At that point Andy mentioned “there is a lot of card playing in this movie.” Which yes, there is. After all, the title is Casino Royale. I sort of expected card playing, since you could only get so much mileage out of Bond sitting at a roulette wheel or playing slots. A high stakes poker game seemed much more likely, and that’s exactly what happens.

The poker game and the immediate lead-up to it really are what I consider the meat of the movie. For one, on the train to Monte Carlo we meet Vesper Lynde, our female lead. And I like Vesper, even if her story is convenient and lazily handled in the long run. She’s strong and smart and while she does warm up to Bond eventually, she’s not about to let him charm her from the get-go. She’s perfectly capable of holding her own against him in a battle of wits and in the end he only figures out what she’s up to because she set it up for him to figure out. Eva Green has a wonderful little smirk for much of her performance and in many other movies that smirk would be too much. But in scenes where she’s turning the tables on Bond’s attitude? It’s perfect. So with Vesper at his side, Bond heads to the poker table to face off against the villain of the movie: Le Chiffre. And the game itself is nice and tense. I’m sure I’d appreciate it more if I knew the game better, but I’ve never been terribly interested in poker. As it is, I was glad of the dealer showing the hands as they were revealed and explaining what was winning with at least a hint as to why. Nicely done for us poker-illiterate viewers! And along with that there was the game-interrupting poisoning scene, a scuffle with a couple of terrorists during a break and the revelation that another player at the table was working for the CIA. All in all, it was precisely what I expected and wanted out of the movie, which I could say goes for the entire film.

To be honest, what most shocked me about this movie was how varied the locations and moods were. It bounced around a lot. Black and white intro in a high rise, chase scene on foot in Africa, beachy resort with lots of quiet backstabbing and sex in the Bahamas, action chase scene in a fuel tanker at an airport in Florida, casino scene in Monte Carlo, torture scene, recuperation in a hospital somewhere, romance in Venice, then action in Venice. That’s a hell of a lot to fit into a single movie, which is probably why it’s over two hours long. The plot is winding, going from a planned bombing in Africa to another planned bombing in Florida to the Texas Hold’em game in Monte Carlo. And then it doesn’t end there. The game isn’t the end. It takes up a lot of time, but it’s not the end. After the tension of the game the movie just keeps going. Are all Bond movies paced like this? Slow then fast then slow then fast? Action, romance, action, tension, torture, romance, action? It just strikes me as strange, I suppose. A bit of a roller coaster, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it.

I do know that I’m frustrated by the end of the movie and by the lack of information on Vesper. It feels incredibly easy to have set her up to double cross Bond, then have M say “Oh, it wasn’t her fault. They were holding her boyfriend to force her to cooperate. And she’s dead now, so no mess!” For one, what happened with the boyfriend? I assume he’s dead. Vesper just sort of gives up on him mid-movie and switches her affections to Bond. And then M suggests to Bond that Vesper made a deal with the terrorists so that the two of them could go free. But if the terrorists already had her boyfriend, what more would they need from her? I can think of a few ways to resolve it (they’d killed the boyfriend but she kept working for them to save Bond, or perhaps she worked with them on making Bond lose in exchange for her boyfriend’s life, then made a new deal to steal the money in exchange for Bond’s life and her own?) but neither what I can think of nor any other explanations are ever offered by the movie. Which is a shame, because it wouldn’t have taken a whole lot more. Just another line or two of exposition from M. But the movie just doesn’t care. Which I find intensely irritating. I liked everything else about it and it went to the length of giving Bond some actual character development! It had action and clever dialogue and tension. And then a major character’s backstory and the key to her actions? Nah, no big deal. So I enjoyed the movie, but it did leave me rolling my eyes a little.

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August 29, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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