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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Casino Royale (review)

Terrorists: I Hate These Guys

Oh man: James Bond’s got Indiana Jones all over him all of a sudden. He bleeds. He hurts. He grins nastily at his own handiwork. He laughs in the face of his torturer (yeah, torturer — and don’t let the PG-13 rating fool you: the scene may not be graphic, but it is highly disturbing). He’s earthy and grounded and there in a way that Bond never has been before, a real man who suffers — inside and out; Daniel Craig = a god of cinema — but who is also, when it’s not his own well-being at stake, genuinely cold-hearted, almost sadistic. You cheer for him, a devil on the side of the angels, but it’s hard to actually like him, because he’s more than a little scary. You believe that that frosty smirk of his is just as revealing about the man as is the fact that he holds open a door for a hotel maid, an act of unthinking, automatic chivalry.

By the time you’re trying to unravel the conundrum that is this new James Bond, you’ve entirely forgotten that scene with the fuel truck at the airport that made you think of Raiders of the Lost Ark in the first place.
Casino Royale — from screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (recent Bond vets who wrote Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough as well as the Bond parody Johnny English) and Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), and director Martin Campbell (who directed Goldeneye and, more recently, Beyond Borders and The Mask of Zorro) — is exactly what I was hoping for, and everything I was expecting from the first Generation X James Bond. It’s cleverly funny but never campy. When it mocks, it mocks out of love. It’s completely, fannishly, geekily worshipful… and it expresses that geeky worship by taking Bond, deconstructing him and stripping away all the nonsense that has accreted around him in recent years, and finding the core awesomeness that made Bond so appealing and appalling (in that way that can’t resist embracing danger) in the first place. Casino Royale is more like Batman Begins that it is like The World Is Not Enough. It’s more like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man than it is like Die Another Day. It’s Bond’s superhero origin story reconsidered from a perspective that respects and understands the authority and the intensity behind the character. It is, in that way that defines a genuinely geeky approach, serious about something silly. But not too serious.

So it’s unquestionably Bond, but it tweaks Bond in order to kick him in the ass and get him back on track. It rewinds to the beginning and starts all over fresh, pretending that all the Bond that’s come before simply never happened — that’s exactly the kind of revitalization the franchise needed. Here, Daniel Craig’s (Archangel, Infamous) Bond is newly promoted to double-O status in the era of the global war on terror, battling a baddie, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen: King Arthur), who acts as banker to terrorists while also planning his own acts of terrorism, not out of any desire to affect politics but just for his own financial gain. He’s an entrepreneur, that’s all. (Though you gotta love the sly joke of his evilly sleek yacht, which is right out of the Villain Supply catalog — it’s so supercool that it has to be a dig at bad-guy clichés.) There’s one traditional Bond girl, all tits and botox-inflated lips and next-to-no clothes, but she is quickly dispatched in favor of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green: Kingdom of Heaven, The Dreamers), an accountant sent along to watch over Bond as he sneaks into a high-stakes card game, playing with goverment money, in which Le Chiffre is competing; Lynd is gorgeous, of course, but she’s also an intellectual match for Bond, and where in older Bond films their banter would have been a tedious exchange of obvious puns and double entendre, here it’s more like 1940s-style screwball comedy, where the hero and heroine snipe because they can’t stand the sight of each other, until, of course, they fall madly in love.

Yup, Bond in love, and you know this can’t end well, that it must set him up to become the dispassionate cad we know him to be… or that we know he’ll become… Oh, I can’t get my head around the temporal distortions here, how we’ve fast-forwarded to the past. And there’s a lot of that here, a sense of complete freshness that feels wonderfully old-fashioned at the same time — we have indeed gone back to the beginning, and it’s a beginning that is as modern as right now and as classic as Tracy and Hepburn. (Last year I called Mr. & Mrs. Smith the first “screwball action movie,” and there’s a lot of that attitude here, too.) The action, which is breathtaking and edge-of-your-seat suspenseful and half the time funny as hell — all I’ll say: construction-site foot chase — and the other half nonstop nailbiter, looks to be mostly traditional stuntwork, no FX or other cartoon baloney. (Craig says he hurt all the time making this flick and doing many of his own stunts.) It’s all honest and organic and authentic.

So it becomes easy, with that duality you can’t help but have watching Casino Royale and seeing it as totally new and totally immersed in its own history as the same time, to get a bona fide thrill of geeky delight when Bond puts on a tuxedo jacket for the first time, reluctantly… until he sees himself in a mirror and realizes that, yesss, this is a look he likes. To keep humming that iconic Bond music all along and then feeling your own geeky heart soar when it finally makes its first appearance at the end of the film as this novice double-O is reborn as Bond, James Bond… M (the still luscious Judi Dench: Pride & Prejudice, Ladies in Lavender) may complain that, Christ, she misses the Cold War, but we don’t have to. All of a sudden, we have an antihero for the new reality.

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
  • michelle

    botox-inflated lips?

  • Alec

    I’ve not seen the film yet but will see it on the 22nd. But, I did want to make a comment. Over the last several years, the lion’s share of real-life terrorists have been radical Islamists. And yet, over those same last several years, only one film comes to mind that features radical Islamists as terrorists – “True Lies.” Even the film, “The Sum of All Fears,” changed author Tom Clancy’s Islamists into Nazis.

    Why all the pussyfooting around? If Bond is facing a terrorist banker, why does the banker have to be French (or at least, with a French-sounding name) … especially since all the known “terrorist” bankers uncovered to date have also been “Islamist” bankers?

    Frankly, I think it’s time for Hollywood to take its head out of its posterior and start calling a spade a spade … even if it draws fire from the Islamic community. If, indeed, the Islamic community was serious about combatting terrorism, they’d be out protesting in the streets every time a terrorist committed a vile act of terror … not protesting a film that depicts an Islamist as a bad guy (like they protested when “True Lies” was released).

  • Steve

    well, uh,that’s a good point, alec, but ,you see, in the book Casino Royale,the villains name WAS Le Chiffre.

    You do read, right? If so,try the book.

  • Harley

    You know, way way back when I first heard about this film I was nervous. I’ve been watching Bond films my whole life and after “Die Another Day” I told myself that I just couldn’t handle any more disappointment because that film was just so bleedin’ awful and just so NOT BOND. But after reading this review of yours I have a renewed sense of hope. I’m glad to hear the quality is back from an actual intelligent Bond girl to well-rounded characterization of Bond himself. Thank goodness. And if it’s even better than ever? Bonus.

  • Alec

    Well, uh, that’s a good point, Steve. But you see, in the *movie* Casino Royale, the Fleming novel is supposed to be updated to “present-day” realities. The film does NOT take place in the 50s when Fleming wrote it.

    You do understand the concept of “updated,” right? If not, try the movie.

  • Drave

    Regarding the movie:
    Freaking FANTASTIC! Really really great, and getting better the more I think about it. There was only one aspect of the film that felt like a stumble to me, and I realized later that I was 100% wrong. That part was the process of Bond falling in love. Watching him declare what I did feel were perfectly honest feelings, he somehow seemed… just a little bit off. As the story finished unfolding, though, I realized that this was a deliberate choice. The ever-so-slightly frantic tone he speaks the words in, the nervousness of his eyes, like he isn’t quite sure he believes what he is saying. I realized at the end that his feelings, although he was really feeling them, were not love; they were the last gasp of his humanity, as it tried to reach out and assert control one last time before being fully compartmentalized in order for him to do his job effectively. The truest moment in the movie is when he talks about getting out with whatever soul he has left, and his pleading eyes when he asks her “Is it enough?” He knows it isn’t, and he knows he will never be able to really have what he is reaching out for in those moments, but he absolutely must reach out for it, and he must fail, so that he can put away that part of himself and go do his job.

    Another of my favorite moments is the shower scene, which is closely related. It is a perfect moment, and it is the antithesis of everything that Bond had become during the crapfest of the last several movies. It perfectly represents both the depth of his humanity, and how frightening that humanity is, because he can turn it on and off, like any other tool he uses for the job. It is not an act he is putting on to placate her. It is real; he is comforting her because she needs comforting, and he is very vulnerable while he is doing it, but once it is done he must instantly switch gears back to cold and ruthless. So, he uses real tenderness and honesty and emotion, but he uses it as ruthlessly as a machine, which is one of the reasons he is so scary. It would be less scary if there was anything dishonest about his comforting.

    Ahh, can you tell that this movie really affected me? *grins*

    To the person who was talking about terrorism, I feel that you are way out of line. I appreciate not letting the forces of political correctness control art, but you are simply coming off like a racist with a chip on your shoulder about a particular group. Also, if you had been paying attention, you would have noticed that Le Chiffre is not a real terrorist. His only terrorist acts are motivated by money. Think what you will about the kind of terrorist you are talking about, but they are more likely to have religious or political motivations. Even if that is not the case, a movie is a movie, and a compelling story is a compelling story. Why is the terrorist French? Because that’s what happens in this story.

  • Alec


    I could believe that an Islamist financier bankrolled terror in 2006. I could also believe that an Irish (I.R.A.) financier bankrolled terror in 2006. I could also believe that an Argentinian financier bankrolled terror in 2006 (still a big grudge over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands – or Malvinas Islands, as the Argentinians call it). But a Frenchman?

    You said, quote, “Why is the terrorist French? Because that’s what happens in this story.” OK, in the movie “Sum Of All Fears,” why were the terrorists Nazis? In the story, as Clancy wrote it, they’re Islamists.

    I’m not making a racial comment. I’m merely suggesting that Hollywood has become timid toward using Islamist terror as a vehicle to film … after the protests following the release of “True Lies.”

    In short … if they really wanted to update the film, they had a lot of options besides Frenchmen. And given the subway bombing in London, Bond would have had a highly believable foe if the villian was an Islamist.

  • Drave

    I could say many things in response to this, but I feel it is rude to continue to argue in the comments of somebody else’s blog, so if you are honestly interested in continuing this discussion, you may email me at dravejunkmail at yahoo dot com, and I will respond to everything you said, line by line.

  • martin

    “vodka martini” would u like that shaken or stired? do i look like i give a damm! This adrenanalin pumping film sends bond to the 21 century and giving bond a new look.
    If bond films such as the over bloated die anther day carried on then general public would eventually get bored.The overall film,script and actors played their parts perfectly with the superb judi dench and the amzing bond himself Danial Craig.
    However the film lacked certain qualities, for example the lack of “Q” with his gagets and the fact that the cars most technical design being a batery powered cardio machine showed up the film.this is mainly because technology is the biggist part of bond.Although Daniel craig ads realism to the film it does lack the unbelievable stunts that bond has done in the past.
    All of this sounds like i hated the film but that is far from the truth. the free running and stunts on the crane was superb and the fight on the miama airport was oustanding.there has never been griiter more dark bond!
    This film is more like the finale piece of the jigsaw making us realise how bond came to pass and why he has such a shovenist atitude to women and life.
    People who have not seen this film dont expect james bond because it is far from it expect to see him evolve into bond and then believe he is bond in the finale 30 seconds!
    casino royale 9.5/10

  • Dave

    I’ve grown up around Bond. From Connery, to Lazenby, to Moore, to Dalton, to Brosnan. I’ve seen their movies, I’ve read pieces of the books, I’ve played the games (blah), and I consider myself to have wasted quite a bit of life on one of the best spy stories in existance. And up to this moment, the spotlight and definitive character known as Bond comma James Bond has been Connery. Sir Sean Connery developed the suave, the tone, the very essence of this very popular saga. Every following actor had big shoes to fill, and of recent films like Die Another Day and The World is Not Enough, they hardly seem to even try on those ‘shoes’. But here, the film has stepped back on track. The film destroys and disassembles Bond, and then picks back up the pieces, fits them together, bakes on high for 45 minutes, and, for the first time, you see Bond as he was meant to be. In this film, you witness the very creation of his persona and his resolve. Craig. Has. Become. Bond.

    If you asked me what I thought of this movie personally, and what parts I enjoyed best, I’d probably send you to the movie theater with a $10 note in your hand. See it for yourself. Craig does the character justice, and even moreso as you see Bond evolve into the being Connery made him to be.

    Trust me on this one: ****Its a must see for any Bond lover.****

  • Heinz Quirrenbach

    This 007 movie is totally different from any Bond. Where are the special effects and were are the newest gadgets? This movie truly sucks. The worst Bond movie I have ever seen.

  • MaryAnn

    So, no FX and no gadgets and that’s enough to sink the film for you, Heinz? What about the character himself? Is it just about the bling for you?

  • Drave

    Sometimes I wonder how people like Heinz end up here. Then I remember that you are listed on RottenTomatoes.

  • Frances

    Once again, I found myself nodding without end while reading your fab review. Kudos!

  • tinman

    Not to belabor alec’s bigoted comment on islamic terroists –

    I realize that it may be nessacary for him to act out his revenge fantasies by having Bond blow up muslims onscreen – but as a muslim – I can say that I respect the fact the muslims havent yet been forced to endure the kind of hatred that other racial groups have suffured – And while we do get dirty looks for wearing our headscarves or prayer caps and beards – and we get arrested and jailed and accused and ostracized by our neighbours for simply living next door – still some people have made an effort to care about the stereotyping of our community

    and if what I say seems to you that we are being unfair and overly p.c. -in asking that mainstream hollywood to not portray as savage barbarian terrorists, then consider the only time one ever reads about the islam or muslims in any context is when it is associated with the word terror -and that is unfortunate considering that one fifths of the worlds population is muslim…and I am certainly not counting among those -the nuts who do commit senseless violence in the name of cultlike devotion to facist demagouges like bin laden

    Thus -I would rather my movie villans be portrayed ‘unrealistically’ (as if James Bond is supposed to accurately represent todays socio-political climate ) then to add more fuel to the muslim haters among the popcorn munching crowds

    Sigh..Sometimes i feel like the caveman in those geico commericals

  • bats

    What a great movie! I’ve never been a Bond fan (honestly, I preferred the broad Austin Powers’ parodies, even if my husband (a Bond fan who pretty much gave up on the franchise 20 years ago) will occasionally have to clue me in on what’s being mocked). From the trailers and the thought that this was a stripped-down, minimal gadget and FX attempt, we actually *wanted* to go and pay money for this one, and I’m glad we did. Craig’s on board for at least two more Bond movies, and I suspect we’ll see those, too.

  • I loved this movie too.

    I was surprised as heck to find out that MaryAnn loved it too. Anyone who has read her review of the last Bond flick realizes that MaryAnn isn’t exactly a big fan of the Bond movies.

    Any movie good enough to win her over has to be worth seeing for that reason alone.

    Even if it does have an acute shortage of Islamic villains.

    But then many Bond films made during the Cold War didn’t necessarily have Russian villains. And no one ever complained about that.

  • first up, there’s no mention in the movie of Le Chiffre’s religion so he could have been Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Rastafarian, whatever. He’s not the terrorist anyway, just the banker for seemingly many cultures of terrorists, of which the angriest ones are African.

    I forget whereabouts in Africa, because this movie was so overlong and tedious, the intial subtitle now seems like an eternity ago….

    So it’s Bond getting back to the man, the character… yadder yadder yadder, heard it all before. Wasn’t Timothy Dalton supposed to be Bond stripped down to his bare soul?

    This one is Bond stripped down to his soul, and then bandaged up in Hollywood’s worst. Chase scenes are overlong and without rhythm; the whole movie is too long. It reminded me of the latest Godzilla remake – yeah, it was kinda impressive on screen, but all of the original love story from the 1930s version was just totally lost. Wiped away.

    As with this movie – it just seemed to wallow in its own secret agent wet dream and ridiculous oversized guns. As for the gadgets – maybe Q’s time had come, after John Cleese just made a farce out of Desmond Llewelyn’s legacy… but this movie is not short on gadgetry. Heart defribillator in the car? Sim card readers that can pinpoint the exact spot a single SMS was sent? Not exactly the stuff of science fiction, but Bond was never short of highly convenient help when he needed it. Perhaps this is what destroyed all tension for me – everything was just too easy for him.

    Again with the gadgetry, and this seems to be the way of any “classic remade” lately but it relies too much on beeping mobile phones or messaging thingys a bit too much for my liking – surely Vesper didn’t get texts in the original? Why make them use SMS/TXT, just because it’s modern day? If that’s the case, why have Bond drink so much – that’s surely not modern day MI6?

    Finally I’d seen the “girl trapped in watery lift” clip so many times (including a trailer for Omega right before the show, bad form!) – about two hours into the movie, when it still hadn’t happened, I was shifting in my seat wondering if this damn movie surely wasn’t over yet. That’s how much I was enjoying it. When the usual Bond villain’s mountain/cocaine lab/Venitian townhouse started collapsing all around, i just had to sigh. This is nothing new, and yet it had so much promise.

    Oh, and shame on the producers/scriptwriters for actually MENTIONING Omega by name, or was that a piss-take on the piss-take on the Wayne’s World product placement piss-take? I wasn’t sure so I’m not giving it the benefit of the doubt. SHAME!

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