Friday, November 17, 2006

Casino Royale

Okay, it's over six hours later, and I still can't get over Casino Royale. I took the day off to rest after getting hit hard with a cold, and I decided to go see the new Bond flick.

From the opening graphics (and the great pop hit blending in with the action, Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name"), I was settling in for at least a decent treatment. I'd tried not to get my expectations too high, after reading repeated assertions that this was a return to roots. Even to the extent of trying to be more faithful to Ian Fleming's original story. Well, it's been way too many years since I read that book, so I can no longer remember the details, but the spirit is there.

This movie, like Batman Begins, returns to the origin of the exceptional individual. Fleming's Bond is both clever and brutal. As is fitting, we're introduced at the act that transitions him from, what? No past, just a mention by M that maybe he wasn't ready, but here he fulfills the criterion, to become a 'double 0'. I know that sounds a bit incoherent, but I don't want to give away plot points.

The first chase scene is classic. No helicopters, no speedboats, not even, to begin with, an Aston Martin. This was a footrace. Fast, brutal, athletic. If you've never heard of Parkour, this sequence is as good an introduction as any. Much of the movie is like that, pure, basic animal energy. Daniel Craig is disgustingly fit, and seeing him put on a full-on sprint like a cheetah rushing to bring down a gazelle, well, it's just spooky.

Another thing I can appreciate is that the pace of the movie varies so widely. First quiet, then frenetic, then conversational. Several portions of the movie center around a high stakes poker game (Casino, duh!), and for most of those scenes, it's light dialog, hooded stares, no action. And they let it happen.

Are there gadgets? Sure. They pop up when needed, and in service to the story. We don't have a curmudgeonly Q introducing a raft of exploding household appliances and every accessory a sports car nut could ever dream of. Don't get me wrong, in the Connery days, those sequences worked. But over the years, the gadgets have come to overshadow the story. I like the Bond who moves effortlessly between the country club and the dark alley, and the clear indication that any person he meets is a potential enemy. Cold war psychosis distilled.

How about explosions? Yes, they have them too. And fast cars. And plenty of fights. But somehow it all seemed just enough, rather than more, more, MORE! And in most cases, the fights felt like a guy who really felt like they were for keeps. Brutal, and pretty short. Not glamorous. Not 'manly'.

Fleming's Bond is both more and less than human, a bit of a sociopath, but maybe a bit of a Da Vinci as well. Daniel Craig carries that mantle well.

It says something that tonight I've been thinking of Dr. No and Goldfinger, two of my favorite Bond movies of all time. Some time must pass, I'll have to see this on DVD, on the telly late at night, juxtaposed with other pop culture. But I think it'll pass the test of time.

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