(2006) dir. Martin Campbell
viewed: 01/06/07 at the Balboa Theater, SF, CA
Surprisingly gritty yet slick entertainment, I have to say.
I have never been a true James Bond aficionado, though if I ever got around to reading Ian Fleming, that could change, I suppose. I, like so many others, have always preferred the Sean Connery films to others, and actually have been increasingly dissatisfied with the more recent films featuring Pierce Brosnan. The problem with the Bond franchise has been that it was based on something that has become increasingly outdated, and as a result, the producers and writers have continued to try and modernize the character and the villains and the situation, while retaining some air of the originals. All while trying to accomplish this, the films have become paint-by-numbers overall, with off-beat villains, sexy “Bond girls”, and big action set-pieces in exotic, romantic locales. All of this while trying to modernize the inherent sexism and the changing landscape of who the bad guys are since the Cold War ended.
I had been hearing about this idea to go back and make Casino Royale, the first of the Bond novels since it hadn’t gotten a “proper” cinematic treatment and it offered a chance for reinvention. When Quentin Tarantino was associated with it, it seemed very promising. There is so much media hype over this franchise, it’s crazy. All the “controversy” over the casting of Daniel Craig was annoying. Clearly, I am not a part of the fan club that cares that deeply. But I had seen Craig in 2004’s Layer Cake and had seen the possibilities of his rough yet steely Steve McQueen-like charm and looks.
All that said, this movie was really pretty excellent, much better than I anticipated even though I had heard many a solid word-of-mouth recommendation on it. Craig is a compelling hero, with his toughness yet very physical manner, and the variety of action pieces. Much of the over-slick pretension of the films: the gorgeous settings, women, technology, cars, suits, everything…somehow in this film seem much less like gloss, but fitting wardrobe and environments for the action and narrative.
The film’s first major action scene has little flashes of the over-the-top sequences, but is also much more physical and muscular. I mean, could one see Roger Moore doing these stunts? Or any of the past Bonds except perhaps Sean Connery? The sequence is a chase over a building site with a great deal of running and climbing that reminded me a good deal of the action in District B13 (2004), whose primary quality was the influence of the European martial art, Parkour, and the amazing David Belle who performed the leaping and climbing and fighting. While a lot more over-the-top than that, the sequence stayed grounded in the tough fight sequences. The action throughout carried a lot of that.
But even the romance and the villains,… the Bond cliches that tend to annoy me all worked so well here. I guess that I’m still trying to fathom why, but it was great. The villain, Le Chiffre, with his blood tears, the sinking Venetian building, the race on the tarmac to save the airplane… Man. This is an excellent action film, probably one of the best that I’ve seen in a long time. And the play that the film uses with the Bond standards, while I wouldn’t call it “fresh”, I would say that it felt less pandering and somehow more unified. Really, I was surprised.