Monday, November 2, 2015

James Bond Marathon: Casino Royale

"This may be too much for a blunt instrument to understand, but arrogance and self awareness seldom go hand-in-hand."

Chronology & Stats
James Bond #21
Star: Daniel Craig #1 (my favorite of his)
Director: Martin Campbell #2 (my favorite of his)
My Ranking #1

For me, this is the one. After my long journey through the Bond franchise, I can finally say with certainty that this is my favorite James Bond movie.

Casino Royale is the movie that makes James Bond into a character. Previously he had always been a cipher for a certain brand of masculinity, and that's valuable in its own way, but Casino Royale maintains that portrait of masculinity while adding depth and complexity to it. This is the first Bond where there's been any ambiguity in the character. He's no longer a superhero, he's finally a real human being, and all the inherent flaws of Bond as a cipher for masculinity (his sociopathy, his misogyny, etc.) play explicitly throughout the text as we see them weighing heavily on his soul.

He's strong, but he's not invincible. We see that he can't quite keep up with the gymnastics of the parkour opening and has to think or break his way through obstacles to keep up. We feel his pain when he's tortured, and see that the jokes he makes aren't because he doesn't care, but because he needs to distract himself. The fact that this is easily the most painful scene to watch in the entire Bond canon is no mistake: Bond is finally mortal.

He's suave, but he can still be ruffled. He still has the ability to command an entire scene just by walking through it with the right suit on, but he can also be broken in a way none of the other Bonds ever could. We see him fall apart after the long foot chase and shoot his target even though he wanted to interrogate him. We see him fooled by Le Chiffre at the card table and drugged to within an inch of his life. He recovers his composure, but here he's become more than a simple symbol of "cool".

Perhaps even more than all this, he's serious but not humorless. Casino Royale is often dismissed as part of the recent "dark and gritty" trend commonly associated with Christopher Nolan, but while it attains the best of this style (the higher stakes and more complex themes), it also avoids the worst of it (the absence of sex or romance). We get the dark of the close up on Caterina Murino's tortured face, but we also get the light of Craig calling Eva Green "Miss Stephanie Broadchest". He gets moral and emotional depth, but he's also still throwing out pithy quips. What's more than that, we see how these two halves are inextricably intertwined: Bond uses this comedy, as he does in the dungeon, as a way to remain at a distance from the grim, occasionally disturbing nature of his work.

At the heart of this interplay between silliness and sobriety, between fun and angst, is Eva Green's Vesper Lynd. She injects the film not only with a dose of sex, with her slinky dress and gorgeous features, but also with some real romance. Not since On Her Majesty's Secret Service have we seen Bond fall in love, and here it adds some much needed genuine emotional content. It's not only that she works from a tonal standpoint, brightening up the bleakness of the world, she also continues Bond's development as a character. She gives him a way out of his life, something that makes the struggle worthwhile, some desire to cut through the nihilism.

But she's much more than just a pawn to move the central character work forward. Vesper Lynd is also one of the most empowered Bond Girls in the entire series. She's at least Bond's match in intelligence, reading him just as much as he reads her in their first encounter. She saves Bond multiple times, once even bringing him back to life. She even participates in one of the fight scenes, and while she's obviously not as strong physically as Bond and she ends up traumatized by the encounter, she's never weak. This is more of the film's complex character work: she doesn't have the same strengths as Bond, but without her he would be lost. She stands on her own.


All this might make it sound like Casino Royale works purely on a character-driven level, but that's not the case in the slightest. This isn't just a great Bond movie, it's also a great action movie. The post-credits opening parkour chase is one of the most exciting scenes in any Bond movie, and it reaches that point without relying unnecessarily on big explosions or other cheap tricks (there's an explosion, but it's notably not used as a climax but rather as simply a way to further emphasize the stakes).

It's significant that the chase is mostly just two people running after each other: this makes the chase much more organic and natural to the surroundings. Bond gets into a construction vehicle to destroy a structure that lies in his way, but then he has to get out and keep running. This highlights another of the scene's strengths: visual storytelling. We see what kind of a person Bond is through the way he follows his target. He's not as agile, but he's stronger and smarter. He can smash through walls or utilize the environment around him.

In addition to all this excellent structural work, the action scenes also just look great. Phil Meheux, who was previously the cinematographer on GoldenEye, shoots the film with a great mix of the frantic impressionism of Paul Greengrass (which had become popular at the time thanks to the rise of the Bourne sequels) and the more choreographed clarity which had begun with Robert Elswit in Tomorrow Never Dies and reaches its apex with Roger Deakins in Skyfall. The action is exciting, but it never loses track of what's going on.

Casino Royale doesn't limit itself generically to being just an action movie, however. Once the central card game commences, the tone shifts from one of explosive excitement to a quieter suspense. The poker game is still as thrilling and entrancing as the chase scenes or shootouts in its own slightly different way. The tension ratchets up as Bond loses money and misjudges Le Chiffre's tell and even drinks poison (which, in classic Hitchcockian fashion, we see go into his glass before he drinks it). All together, this successfully makes something which isn't inherently stimulating or visual (poker) into something cinematic.

It would be easy to overlook Le Chiffre, Bond's opponent in the game of cards, as a signature Bond villain, but while he's not necessarily the most threatening, he's just as important in other ways. With his tears of blood, he's just as sinister as Bond's other nemeses, even if he protests to the contrary. But more to the point, he's a pawn, a representative of a shadow organization—which remains nameless throughout the film; but we all know very well who it is. Le Chiffre might not be as iconic as Blofeld, but that's precisely the point: he's not Blofeld, he's more like Largo from Thunderball, a minion who's menacing in his own right but who functions primarily as a signifier of an even greater evil. If this is the pawn, I'd hate to face the king.

Le Ciffre also provides a thematic counterpoint to 007's excessive wealth and the series's generally regrettable lack of class consciousness. Le Chiffre identifies as a True Believer in capitalism: when asked if he believes in God, he replies that he believes "in a fair rate of exchange." Both Bond and Le Chiffre are rich (or at least part of rich organizations), but rather than simply embracing or rejecting this high class status, their juxtaposition demonstrates the more nuanced position that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with being a capitalist, what matters is how you do it. Vesper makes this tension explicit by calling attention to the fact that, if Bond loses, MI6 will have indirectly funded terrorism. MI6 and this evil shadow organization are two sides of a very valuable coin.

While Casino Royale doesn't explicitly name Spectre, it does set up a lot of other Bond symbols. It's essentially a reboot of the series, with Bond earning his Double-Oh status at the beginning of the film and starting from scratch. And yet, the fact that it is essentially an origin story—a storytelling format which today has become even more tired than the dark and gritty style in which they're being told—never once holds the film back. It somehow achieves the rare feat of providing answers to unasked questions (Where did the name Moneypenny come from?) and miraculously adding weight to what came before rather than detracting from it (007's past flirtation with Moneypenny takes on deeper significance).

Casino Royale certainly doesn't have the same presence in popular culture as something like Goldfinger, but to be fair it also hasn't been around for over fifty years yet. I believe that when we look back from 2060, with an equivalent amount of distance (and probably an unfortunate number of sequels), we will look at it as a crucial turning point in the overall narrative of James Bond. To me it's not only the best Bond movie on its own terms, but it constructs 007 as such a rich character that it retroactively makes all of the other Bond movies that much better. I still love the classic Bonds, and the great thing about cinema is that there's room for each on our shelves, but when I decide what I want to watch, I reach for Casino Royale.

James Bond ranked

Also, I've already written too much about this, but I can't let it go without mentioning the pre-credits sequence. I don't think it quite counts as a cold open, but it might be one of my favorite bits of Bond ever. It's shot like this weird arthouse version of Bond in black and white with wacky camera angles pulled straight out of The Third Man, and it pulls off the prequel/reboot thing of explaining the opening barrel shot without being cutesy or parodic, and the bathroom fight is itself a great scene, and for some reason I can't get "I know where you keep your gun" out of my head. James Bond perfection.

59 comments:

  1. also, the top on-line Casino Bonus Catalog also deliver out higher bonuses than their much less valid fellow businesses. moreover, the high-quality part is the payment security which ensures that each fee is secure and relaxed from third party assaults to your credit card information, so that you can revel in playing the quality on line casino games with out issues.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The stuff in this blog is in not only incredible but also providing the great knowledge to the people.poker online

    ReplyDelete
  3. When thinking about the wide range of games, a land based casino doesn't offer the same variety.Casino Superlines Review

    ReplyDelete
  4. For most other building categories, the Section 179D tax provisions require compliance with the bi-level switching requirement. sbobet

    ReplyDelete
  5. let's try the togel game most telling and easy to win it
    Judi Online

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for the information you have provided, I was pleased to read the article in this blog Poker Online

    ReplyDelete
  7. thank you for being given the opportunity to read this very perfect article. please visit the best sports betting around the world.agen piala dunia

    ReplyDelete
  8. Woow, that's awesome!

    Dont forget to visit our site agen poker if u want to know more about situs poker online

    Thanks Dude!

    ReplyDelete

  9. amazing article,thank you very much for the article and the information.. maybe if you can please visit our prediksi togel

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for your excellent posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back very soon. situs judi online

    ReplyDelete
  11. Articles on good and interesting Visit my website if you want to know more about
    Situs Judi Online

    ReplyDelete
  12. As expected, downloading the casino software is totally free if you want to try out the games for fun before playing with real money.cashpoker38.com

    ReplyDelete
  13. Good Article very interesting Dont forget to visit my site Bandar Poker if you want to know more about

    ReplyDelete
  14. is a Domino QQ Promoter and Online Poker First time in the largest and most trusted Asian, domino online, dominoqq, qq online, domino qq, domino indonesia, poker online indonesia. kiu kiu online

    ReplyDelete
  15. Articles on good and interesting Visit my website if you want to know more about
    agen poker

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thanks for your information so useful for me.
    Thanks for sharing Domino QQ

    ReplyDelete
  17. Casino gambling is also a popular pursuit in Europa as well as most parts of the world. However, for some the access to casinos are limited or absent. This te here

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thanks for your excellent posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back very soon. LIVE CASINO

    ReplyDelete
  19. In New Jersey the state lawmaking body made a statute to permit casino betting and made the Casino Control Commission to supervise the movement, they likewise made a statute to permit casino pledge drives and made the legitimized Games of Chance Control Commission to manage casino pledge drives. slot online

    ReplyDelete
  20. This article is interesting if you want to know more visit our website. slot online

    ReplyDelete
  21. Interesting post. I have heard about this and I want to find more resources related on this issue. Thank you for posting.check out this

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thanks for your excellent posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back very soon. SITUS JUDI ONLINE

    ReplyDelete
  23. This information is very useful and interesting. Thank you for sharing and do not forget to visit our website to bandar togel
    if you want to know more about

    ReplyDelete
  24. Woow, that's awesome!

    Dont forget to visit our site agen poker if u want to know more about situs poker online like poker online, bandarq, dominoqq or domino99

    Thanks Dude!

    ReplyDelete
  25. This information is very useful and interesting. Thank you for sharing and do not forget to visit our website to togel online if you want to know more about

    ReplyDelete
  26. By previewing the games, you can easily decide whichever game you want to play. www.agensbobet7.com

    ReplyDelete
  27. amazing article,thank you very much for the article and the information.. maybe if you can please visit our website to judi online
    if you want to know more about

    ReplyDelete
  28. Poker is the ultimate test of skill and can be very unpredictable. Poker has many variations, even though the rules of play and strategy differs, the hierarchy of winning hands remains the same Situs Poker Online Indonesia

    ReplyDelete
  29. Though other types of casino software will periodically provide players with the chance to enjoy slot tournaments, none will be as versatile or commonplace as those found through Odds On - proving once again online casinos accepting USA players are superior to those found open only to European players.visit site

    ReplyDelete
  30. Articles on good and interesting Visit my website if you want to know more about
    togel online

    ReplyDelete
  31. The author has so delightfully enraptured the consideration of crowd by this radiant blog.
    cashpoker38.com/

    ReplyDelete
  32. This is also true for any profit distribution, whether to investors or in the case of Indian gaming projects, distributions to a tribe's general fund for infrastructure/per capita payments.Agen Judi Online

    ReplyDelete
  33. *Thank you for allow me to comment in here, YOUR ARITKEL IS VERY NICE


    Agen Poker
    Situs Poker
    Dominoqq
    Domino99
    Bandarq
    kiu kiu
    qiu qiu

    ReplyDelete
  34. Articles that are very good and interesting thanks 99 poker

    ReplyDelete
  35. Thank you for allow me to comment in here, YOUR ARITKEL IS VERY NICE


    Agen Poker
    Situs Poker
    Dominoqq
    Domino99
    Bandarq
    kiu kiu
    qiu qiu

    ReplyDelete
  36. I’m eager to find the valuable information and for me this is the right place to get the good stuff.https://online-casino-osterreich.at

    ReplyDelete
  37. amazing article,thank you very much for the article and the information.. maybe if you can please visit our
    togel online
    togel hkg
    togel sgp
    pengeluaran togel
    judi online
    slot online
    casino online
    bandar bola
    agen poker
    dewa poker

    ReplyDelete
  38. Articles that are very good and interesting thanks

    casino online

    ReplyDelete
  39. other cheap tricks (there's an explosion, but it's notably not used as a climax but rather as simply a way to further emphasize the stakes). eclipse casino

    ReplyDelete
  40. This article is interesting, if you want to know more visit our website.

    dadu online

    ReplyDelete