Casino Royale

Can James Bond be saved? I’m speaking in an aesthetic sense, of course. The last couple of installments made more money than ever. Which makes it all the more incredible that the Broccoli family, who have controlled the franchise since the beginning, is willing to fool with the formula. What they’ve done here is a complete reboot in an attempt to artistically revitalize the series.

Casino Royale was Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. For the bizarre legal reasons that seem to gravitate toward Bond, the Broccolis never made a movie out of it. (The movie that was made by that name by other producers is truly execrable.) Director Martin Campbell and the screenwriters, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis take Bond back to the start of his career, right after he makes his second kill, which promotes him to double O grade. He’s not the polished, witty sophisticate of previous efforts. All that’s presumably ahead of him. For now he’s a blunt instrument, which is how M, played again by Judi Dench, describes him. In the first chase scene he uses a bulldozer.

Gradually, we see him smoothing out his edges and learning his job. It’s an exciting process, which I hope will take several pictures to complete. Daniel Craig, despite all the hand wringing by Bondheads, is a great James Bond. Every time he exhales, he’s dangerous. We haven’t seen Bond’s menace since the early days of Sean Connery. Nor the coldness as 007’s heart.

Casino Royale is not a perfect film. The narrative breaks down at the end when Campbell and the screenwriters take a half hour to show what should have been shown in about five minutes. But up until then Casino Royale is among the best of Bond. And it is because they chose to break the formula and get rid of all their “tells” which figure so much in the plot. That in itself is almost as exciting as the plot or the stunts or the fights, all of which are excellent.

So yes, James Bond is saved, and I stand in awe of Barbara Broccoli who revamped the series when she didn’t really have to. After all, us baby boomers would have gladly gone to yet another formulaic effort with the same plot as the previous 20, laughing at the same tired jokes.

It’s a great day people; Bond is relevant again.


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November 2006
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