Whenever I go down to the coast I take James Bond with me. It’s become a tradition, if you will: the sand, cool sea breeze and a light hearted and easy read in the form of one of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. I find them at flea markets; hidden beneath mountains of cheesy Mills & Boon novels and unread Western pulp stories. If I see them I buy them. I may not always finish them, and Bond may be stuck in a life-threatening situation until another trip to the coast rolls around, but as this tradition has grown I’ve found that my appreciation for James Bond, the real Bond, has also developed.
Maybe my escape into the original books has something to do with the terrible representation Bond has had in the land of film. Over the years, Bond – even before Brosnan revived the character in 1995’s Golden Eye – has become flatter and even more two-dimensional than the celluloid he is projected off.
Presented as an emotionless (and I would go so far as to say soulless) killing/spying machine he is extremely predictable and at times frustrating to watch. The cut and paste approach the owners of the film rights (the Broccoli’s) have often utilised has damaged the series immensely; there has been no character growth, unlike the Bond from the books.
The James Bond that Fleming created is human. A great spy but flawed in many ways just like you and I. Often hooked on booze and smoking 60 cigarettes a day, he fails missions and death affects him – evidenced in You Only Live Twice, which picks up after the murder of his wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Casino Royale brings Bond back to the silver screen four years after the disappointment that was Die Another Day, and it appears that I may have not been the only one doing some light holiday reading. Casino Royale was the first James Bond novel and it is no coincidence that the producers of this latest film instalment have chosen to adapt this story. The project has been described as a reboot of the franchise; a way to re-establish Bond and his world on film – and all I can say is, “thank you!”
When Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an investment banker to international terrorists, loses the money provided to him by one such organisation, he is forced to come up with the money as quickly as he can. Setting up a high stakes poker game at the Casino Royale he plans to win it all back. Fate, however, would appear to not be on his side as James Bond – a secret agent for the British (recently upgraded to double 0 status) – has other plans.
The Bond of the Fleming books is now finally back on the screen. Casino Royale is possibly the best modern-era (Moore, Dalton and Brosnan) Bond I have seen. It’s a fantastic, layered film experience that cuts back on the CGI and gadgets and gives us more drama and emotion; things that have been lacking for a long time.
Daniel Craig, after all the broo-ha about his selection as the new 007, might just be the best Bond ever – after Connery of course. He brings to the screen a James we might have only just glimpsed in Timothy Dalton’s portrayals and he certainly silences the critics in doing so. He is suave, sexy and sophisticated, as Bond should be, and there’s a level of mischievousness to his portrayal that really made me feel as if this was really his first important mission. That, with his graduation came a level of responsibility that he wasn’t quite ready to handle.
Craig humanises the super spy machine by, firstly, not being ridiculously polished or handsome and, secondly, by bleeding, staying wounded and showing genuine emotion. I won’t go into too much detail but do yourself a favour and re-watch the ‘torture’ scene from Die Another Day and then compare it to the torture scene found within Casino Royale. It’s like chalk and cheese, Brosnan’s little MTV music montage represents everything that was wrong with Bond before this new instalment.
Surprisingly, the two scriptwriters (Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) responsible for the last two film are back, but are now joined by a third; Oscar-winning Crash screenwriter/director Paul Haggis. What’s important, however, is that this screenplay gets most things right most of the time. It’s a balanced film experience with an almost surreal wall-climbing, roof jumping opening; subtle moments of great dialogue and a love story that – for most of the film – I was largely engrossed in. The book has been adapted closely in areas, mainly in the casino itself, and I am ecstatic that the torture scene mentioned above has been kept.
Casino Royale is not without its flaws though. Director Martin Campbell, who directed Golden Eye, is able to bring all the right elements together but unfortunately his visual approach to the film does not compliment the new grittier Bond. Everything is filmed too cleanly and his camera placement is frighteningly boring in places. The action sequences are handled superbly but the gambling section of the film is something of a let down. The opportunity to do some great things, visually, present themselves but Campbell seems content to simply let things play out without increasing the tension. The visual gimmicks he does use – an opening scene in black and white and a distorted poisoning scene – are obvious and derivative choices.
Nevertheless, Casino Royale is a return to form for the Bond franchise not seen since the days of Connery. It’s a serious action/spy thriller that gets much more right than it does wrong, and for a franchise that has been doing the latter for many years that’s a great compliment. Daniel Craig is superb and I hope that the new direction that has been taken will be maintained into the next film instalment of this new, re-envisioned franchise. If it doesn’t, however, my light reading will be on standby.