Monday, November 20, 2006

Casino Royale

My wife and I went to see the new James Bond movie "Casino Royale" on Friday night. It is a rare event for the two of us to be able to go out on a date these days.

We are both Bond fans. We have all of the Bond movies at home on DVD and have watched every single one of them together. We had our own little film festival a few years back where we watched them all, in order, one a night.

As combined bodies of work, we order the Bonds:


Though, to give Roger Moore his due, "Live and Let Die" is our combined all time favorite.

And now we have Daniel.

One movie in, we put him ahead of George and Timothy. (As far as my wife is concerned, she would rank a two days dead armadillo ahead of Timothy, but that is another story.)

Daniel Craig is a reasonable Bond. He fits into the role of a reckless, somewhat naive new Bond just starting out on his career. That is what the movie is about. Gone is Commander Bond, veteran of WWII, the sophisticated gentleman of exquisite taste. It is a clean slate, a new Bond, with the ink on his license to kill is barely dry.

Which brings us to my first problem with the movie. If it is a clean slate, you need to throw all of the past overboard. Instead we have, returning for her 5th run as M, Judi Dench. Not the biggest flaw in film history, but a serious distraction if you are familiar with the series. She has a past with Bond, but this Bond is not supposed to have that past. While I am just fine with Judi Dench as M in general, the audience would have been better served by starting fresh in the M role as well.

The second problem I have with the movie is at the Casino itself. Gone is baccarat, the classic Bond card game since "Dr. No." Instead we have a $150 million stakes game of Texas Hold'em poker. Yes, baccarat is an odd game with obscure rules such that almost nobody in the audience knows what the hell is going on in the game, but the games progress is always announced in French and the director never leaves any doubt as to who has won. Baccarat delivers a foreign atmosphere not to mention staying true to the past. The main benefit of Texas Hold'em is that now everybody in the audience who watches celebrity poker on cable can figure out who has won on their own. An unnecessary break with tradition for little benefit.

Finally, the movie itself runs a bit long. Bond is a genre that is good for 90-120 minutes. At nearly 150 minutes, this film is outside the zone and it suffers from it. The film drags some in places. You get to points where the film could end, but you know that the Bond genre won't allow it, so you fidget and wait for that final plot twist and action sequence that is standard issue. Tighter editing and a little less plot complication early on would have helped immensely.

On the plus side, this movie features what is unquestionably the best on-foot chase scene of any Bond movie ever. You will be impressed.

Otherwise, the "Casino Royale" sticks with most of the conventions of the Bond films. Daniel Craig is fine in the role. This is his first run at it, and he has the awkward duty of being new to a role that has a serious past in a movie that is supposed to forget that past. He gets through it well.

"Casino Royale" will probably never be on the short list of favorites for either my wife or myself, but it was good enough that we want to see the next Bond movie with Daniel Craig.

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