James Bond 007
Movie Review + Info on the Bond Franchise
The Entertainment eZine - Action Films
'Casino Royale' pays off
November 17th 2006.
(4.5 Stars out of Five)
Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini and Jeffrey Wright. Directed by Martin Campbell. 144 minutes. At major theatres. PG
You have to wait for it. And that's hardly surprising because so much of the glorious Casino Royale is a departure from past 007 movies.
But when newcomer Daniel Craig finally identifies himself as "Bond. James Bond" late in the picture, you might well find yourself sharing his satisfied smile.
By this point he's more than proven himself worthy of the name, vanquishing not just innumerable foes but also doubts about his suitability for the role. In the Internet age, everybody's spitball has a global reach.
It is one of the curiosities of moviedom that even though we know James Bond to be a fictional character, the most storied of British spies, we have grown to think of him as a real person. We act as if the reassigning of 007's licence to kill should require Parliament's approval, or a least a wave from the Queen.
And yet each age gets the James Bond it needs, regardless of welcome. Sean Connery launched the series in 1962 and defined the Swinging Sixties style of heroism and hedonism. Roger Moore went for the tongue-in-cheek swagger that typified the 1970s and early 1980s. Pierce Brosnan sought to bring a serious actor's gravity to more recent times at least until the sex puns got the better of him. (Let's leave aside the brief interregnums of George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton, which matter not.)
Now comes Craig, the first real 007 of the post-9/11 era. The debate will continue as to who constitutes the best Bond, but there's no question that he is the right Bond for these times.
It's a world where shadowy terrorists no longer live elsewhere, where wars are fought for murky reasons and where even a humble pop bottle represents potential airborne disaster, doomsday visions are no longer confined to the movie screen and nationhood, and patriotism, seek new definitions.
This is something author Ian Fleming realized with uncanny prescience back in 1953 when he launched the legacy with the publication of Casino Royale, introducing Bond as a man of strength and style, but also possessed of self-awareness. A man astute enough to observe that, "History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts."
The rough-hewn Craig is the most credible incarnation to date of Fleming's flawed sleuth. His Bond stalks and kills like the "blunt instrument," as Judi Dench's spy boss M describes him, yet he is human enough to bleed from both the body and the heart. Craig isn't pretty he "impersonates the ugly," as was once said of rocker Rod Stewart but intelligence and depth reside behind those cold, blue eyes.
He meshes beautifully with the other players and elements of Casino Royale, which returning director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye) directs with a maximum of intensity and a minimum of pretense, aided by an uncommonly smart screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, who pay due tribute to Fleming.
Gone or reshaped are most of the conceits that have made Bond movies seem like an exercise in parody and nostalgia.
There is no kitten-stroking villain in an island lair, plotting to blow up the world or to claim the sun, the moon and the stars as his own. Instead we get Mads Mikkelsen's suavely chilling Le Chiffre, an obsessive gambler who brokers financial deals with terrorists to fund his adventures at the poker table. Le Chiffre's main quirk, apart from a penchant for torture, is a tear duct that involuntarily bleeds. "Nothing sinister," he assures us.
The femmes are not quite as fatale as in Bonds past. Eva Green's spy accountant Vesper Lynd and Caterina Murino's flirtatious foil Solange are every bit as beautiful as Bond girls go, but they aren't out to prove their own killer instincts. Yet they are more intriguing and alluring than ever before.
And, for the most part, they have to keep those bikinis unfilled and those bedroom eyes wide open, because this Bond isn't wasting time making idle love. Craig's 007 is undeniably virile, but he's paradoxically the least sex-crazed of Bonds since David Niven's satirical elder incarnation was embarrassing the franchise with the rogue Casino Royale movie romp of 1967. (Freudian analysts will have a field day parsing a torture scene where 007's manhood is more than just shaken and stirred.)
Craig's Bond sprints faster gasp at an early chase scene with parkour (free running) champ Sιbastien Foucan as a fleet-footed bomb-maker and fights harder than any of his predecessors. He loves harder, too, being the first Bond since Lazenby's cerebral spy of On Her Majesty's Secret Service to make a serious commitment to a woman.
The gadgets this time are modest and realistic, just enough to fill the glove compartment of Bond's trusty Aston Martin, which is nowhere near as tricked-out as usual. There is no hapless Q (farewell, John Cleese) to admonish Bond for being reckless with government property.
There is still M, played by Judi Dench as she has since GoldenEye, and finally given a script worthy of her talents. She is much more involved in Bond's training and development, having promoted him to "00" status despite misgivings about his judgment and his apparent inability to rein in his ego.
The above may make Casino Royale sound like serious dramatic fare. It is indeed, and all the better for it.
But director Campbell retains the exotic locales, zipping from Madagascar to Miami to Montenegro, to relieve the potential claustrophobia of the gaming tables that consume much of the story.
There is also humour to savour, although none of the sniggering sex talk that for too long has made Bond seem like a Playboy cartoon character. The wit is often visual: check out the age of the man in M's bed, when she is rudely roused from her slumber, and watch the reaction of the rich oaf who arrogantly mistakes Bond for a parking valet.
Follow the raised eyebrows of Jeffrey Wright's CIA mole Felix Leiter and Giancarlo Giannini's MI6 undercover man Mathis, as they try to figure out exactly what Bond is up to. They are standouts amongst an excellent supporting cast.
And listen to Bond's reply when a barman asks him how he likes his vodka martini. His blunt answer says it all about Casino Royale, the triumph of which points to future chapters and a fully revived franchise. Who cares about style, when the substance is as good as this?
Thinking outside the bikini
NEW YORKThis is a tale of two Bond girls, Eva Green and Caterina Murino. Except there's a twist.
It's a highly coveted role for an actress or used to be, even during the righteous 1970s when newly liberated femmes were denouncing all forms of male domination.
But Casino Royale is a different kind of Bond movie.
Green, who coolly impresses as government accountant Vesper Lynd, and Murino, who sizzles as married temptress Solange, see themselves as Bond girls with a difference.
Green despises the title and asks people including co-star Daniel Craig not to call her that. Murino adores it, but as a means to an end.
With the release today of Casino Royale, the 21st official 007 adventure, Green and Murino join the likes of Ursula Andress, Halle Berry, Diana Rigg and Michelle Yeoh in the tradition of James Bond companions who look very nice while being very naughty.
The Paris-born Green, 26, is best known for her nude frolics in Bernardo Bertolucci's art house film The Dreamers, although she dresses modestly in Casino Royale and for her interviews. She not eager to be known for shedding her clothes.
She turned down the Vesper Lynd role when Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson originally offered her it.
She'd seen a few 007 movies on TV, but was by no means a fan.
"I was like, `Bond girl? Forget it!'" she told reporters here, speaking in the perfectly plummy English accent she has acquired and developed.
"And they were really insisting. They sent me the script two weeks before shooting and I loved it. I thought it was unusual. It was not the typical Bond movie."
She became aware that Lynd is considered the most unique of all of Bond's female companions. Green warmed up to the idea considerably.
"I really like the way she's so sassy. She doesn't care about Bond, really. She's been briefed that he's an arsehole. She's a character that evolves. She's quite tough and then she opens up slowly and she's quite vulnerable."
Murino, 29, hails from Sardinia, Italy. A former model and runner-up Miss Italy finalist, she has a much different attitude about being a Bond girl, with caveats.
"I would love for people to call me a Bond girl!" she said, batting huge eyelids and dressed in a black dress that revealed considerable feminine assets.
Her enthusiasm is based mainly on career self-interest, aimed at raising her profile worldwide.
Her acclaim as Solange has already helped her secure financing for a movie in Italy that was having trouble getting greenlit.
"I'm very proud, because it's part of my curriculum vitae now and my career. With my 15 movies I've already made, I've been trying to make different choices. I think I need, as an actress, to be always different."
The danger of being typecast is very real for Bond women, as Casino Royale director Martin Campbell observes. He understands the reluctance to fully embrace the Bond girl archetype of the bikini-clad bedroom minx.
"The problem is that with the Bond girl in the traditional sense, you never work again. What you do is just ... it's tits and bum. You're window dressing, basically. You're a gorgeous-looking girl, can't act very well, and you're window dressing."
Neither Green nor Murino are like that, he hastens to add.
Co-producer Broccoli has her own take on the situation. She would be quite happy to update the term to "Bond woman," with all the seriousness that implies. But she finds most actresses prefer it the other way.
"It sort of funny how the times have changed," she told the Star.
"Because now, we get a lot of girls who go, `Oh, I want to be a Bond girl!' even though we've said, `Well, they're kind of Bond women now.' They go, `No, no, no! I want to be in a bikini and I want to be a Bond girl!' So now it's kind of back in fashion. It's ever changing and evolving. Just as the role of women is ever evolving."
The Bond Age
GEOFF PEVERE - November 14th 2006
Back in 1964, when the James Bond franchise was barely three movies in, agent 007 (Sean Connery) found himself strapped to a table and about to be split from crotch to scalp by a laser beam.
"Do you expect me to talk?" asked Bond coolly of his captor, the suave Germanic super-villain Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frφbe).
"No, Mr. Bond," came the eloquent response. "I expect you to die."
He didn't, of course. Bond survived, killed Goldfinger and lived on through 19 more movies, despite the murderous intentions of scores of evildoers; and through a period of history as turbulent as any the modern world had known. Since he first appeared on screen in 1962's Dr. No, James Bond has survived the Cold War, Vietnam, Watergate, the collapse of communism, feminism, Thatcherism, Reaganism and the War on Terror.
And that's just the real world stuff. Just as remarkably, Bond has survived countless imitators, spin-offs, rip-offs and spoofs (see sidebar on page C5). Somehow, he has remained both culturally and commercially viable while countless other pop whimsies have sputtered and disappeared.
Most remarkably, he has even proved unshackled by any earthly incarnation. With the debut of Daniel Craig in the 007 role in the much-anticipated Casino Royale this week, the official Bond will have been played by no less than six actors: Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and now Craig. Now that's survival: the idea of Bond even transcends flesh. Nowadays, no one expects him to die. Ever.
The question is, how does he do it? Unlike Tarzan, Mike Hammer, Captain Marvel or the Lone Ranger all of whom have eventually conceded defeat to history Bond stubbornly lives on. Why, despite all the compelling evidence and precedents to the contrary, does this pulp-fiction relic of the mid-20th century still compel our fascination?
If any figure would seem to belong to the last century, it would be James Bond, the licensed-to-kill MI6 agent who made his public bow in the novel Casino Royale in 1952. The character was created by Ian Fleming (1908-64), the academically underachieving son of a British Empire aristocrat who was killed serving in the Great War (his obituary was written by Winston Churchill).
A super-secret, humourlessly unemotional spy with a snobbish yen for brand-named food, cigarettes, booze and women, Bond was forged out of experiences that seem as remote from the present as to be the stuff of myth: Fleming's experiences as a Naval Intelligence Officer (including training at Camp X in Whitby, Ont.) during World War II; the communist threat of the 1950s; the arms and space races; the last vestiges of Great Britain's imperial ambitions.
Among the more ardent fans of Fleming's tales of high espionage was America's president John F. Kennedy, and it's not difficult to see the adventures of the virile spy (who blocks missiles and beds women with equal assurance) as a kind of idealized version of Kennedy-era diplomacy.
However the literary Bond, already 10 years old by the time the Jamaica-based Dr. No film was released, should not be confused with the movie Bond. (For one thing, Fleming's dour hero never utters a quip.) While the books were popular, it was the screen Bond who soared into the pop-cultural stratosphere. Initially played by the balding, coal-eyed Sean Connery (who got the role after Moore later to be Bond No. 3 turned it down), the first movie appeared in the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis on a Caribbean island, yet.
Dr. No was shot largely on studio sets on a relatively small ($1 million U.S.) budget and was sufficiently successful to warrant a sequel. And this is how the Bond's run as an unstoppable pop phenomenon began. As each new film grew slightly larger in scale and preposterous in plot, as Bond's bedding of women and bludgeoning of international adversaries grew increasingly profligate, the spy transcended his human dimensions to become a cartoon figure, larger than life and branded as securely as the lifestyle products Moorland cigarettes, Rolex watches and Smirnoff vodka Fleming was wont to describe in such detail.
Bond outlived his fan in the White House. But it wasn't 007's steely devotion to the anti-communism that ensured his survival through the 1960s. It was his pop art dimensions.
With that indelible high-twang musical theme (composed by Monty Norman but sharpened by John Barry), thrilling pre-credit sequences and indelible mass-market graphic iconography, Bond meshed perfectly with the hip consumer culture of the 1960s. His Englishness represented another form of British pop invasion as the fame of the Beatles grew; his gadgets fetishized new technology; and his womanizing expressed the so-called "permissiveness" of a new era. (Never mind that he was a sexist boor, or that Playboy couldn't get enough of him.) Even his lone-wolf nature though it was employed in government service and was more than a bit psychopathic fit with the rebel-worshipping times. He was, not to put to fine a point on it, cool.
But Bond was also empty: a vessel into which all manner of fantasy projections could pour, a one-size-fits-all shell of masculine wish fulfillment. We know almost nothing of 007's politics, background, friendships or quirks. Bond has very little by way of signature personality traits compared to other literary pulp heroes such as Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, Len Deighton's Harry Palmer or even Spider-Man, he is a cipher. When George Lazenby, who played 007 only once in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, broke into sobs after his bride (Diana Rigg) was murdered by the arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), director Peter Hunt called "Cut!" and explained: "George. James Bond does not cry."
But of course he doesn't. How could he?
With such impertinent ideas informing his reading of 007, it may be for the best that the Australian ex-model hung up Walther PPK shoulder holster after only one movie. (Lazenby allegedly left because he believed Bond could not survive the countercultural insurgencies of the late 1960s. Like Goldfinger, Lazenby spoke too soon.) For the most part, and with really only minor variations on the theme, the actors signed to play the superagent have stuck with the program. Thus, while certain people profess fervent attachments to certain Bonds, that would have to do more with generational affinities or matters of personal taste than nuances in dramatic interpretation.
You can say, as very many have and still do, that Connery was and will always be the ideal Bond, but that's really only because he got there first. Certainly Roger Moore is a glibber and more self-consciously cartoonish 007, while Timothy Dalton marked a return to a certain glowering Connerian machismo. Then Pierce Brosnan, easily the prettiest, most commercially successful and best-haired of Bonds, yanked the franchise once again cartoonward, with Craig's appearance reportedly representing yet another attempt to bring Bond back down to earth. Or at least as close as any of us want him to be.
If Bond were really earthly, the movies would have situated him in real-world situations. Imagine how Commander Bond might have fared in Algeria, Cuba, Vietnam, Beirut, Chile, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. Imagine if Tony Blair, besieged by criticism of his pro-Iraq War policies, had dispatched his top agent on the trail of bin Laden.
But as tempting as such imaginings might be, they also miss the point of James Bond: he is not and cannot be of the world, for the world is not enough. To survive, he must inhabit the realm of pure pulp. Real history messy, complicated, unrelieved by tidy endings and morally contentious is a bog that threatens to suck him under.
That is why ultimately Bond is Bond and the casting changes are mere cosmetic shifts at most matters of star persona and mechanisms for sure-fire attention-getting publicity campaigns. If anything, Bond tries on the actors who play him the same way he samples Morland cigarettes (or used to), Rolexes and double-cuffed, wrist-buttoned shirts.
Indeed, if there's one thing both the literary and cinematic Bond share, it's the fact that they are defined less by their character than their accessories. For Fleming, Bond existed in relationship to his gastronomic tastes, snobbish brand affiliations and habits of elite behaviour. Likewise, in the movies, Bond is less Bond for who he is than what he is associated with: certain cars and clothes, exotic settings, predatory heterosexuality and virtuoso deployment of deadly force.
This, combined with the fact the advances in movie technology will always serve his franchise well, helps us to understand why Bond is with us still. It also lets us understand why apart from certain requirements to be handsome and not American it doesn't really matter who plays him.
Therein lies the reason for his longevity. He is a brilliantly adaptable brand; a product that exists independently of whatever flesh may fleetingly fill those precision-tailored Savile Row suits.
Expect him to die? Not a chance. For that he'd have to be human. And what a letdown that would be.