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Dissecting the Classics – Casino Royale

May 26, 2017 | Posted by Aaron Hubbard
James Bond Daniel Craig Casino Royale

This column doesn’t often cover films from this century, since “classic” status usually takes some time. And this was not originally on the docket for this week, but the tragic passing of Chris Cornell got me wanting to watch this movie. Then, Sir Roger Moore passed away, and it just didn’t feel right to do anything other than a Bond movie. Why not a Moore film? Well, Moore was a great Bond, but a lot of his films haven’t aged as well, and only The Spy Who Loved Me is something I would consider a true classic.

Welcome to Dissecting the Classics , the column previously known as Taken For Granted. In this column, I analyze films that are almost universally loved and considered to be great. Why? Because great movies don’t just happen by accident. They connect with initial audiences and they endure for a reason. This column is designed to keep meaningful conversation about these films alive.

Casino Royale

Wide Release Date: November 16 (UK) and 17 (US), 2006
Directed By: Martin Campbell
Written By: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis
Produced By: Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Cinematography By: Phil Meheux
Edited By: Stuart Baird
Music By: David Arnold
Production Company: Eon Productions, Stillking Films, Babelsberg Films
Distributed By: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures
Daniel Craig as James Bond
Eva Green as Vesper Lynd
Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre
Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter
Judi Dench as M

What Do We All Know?

James Bond is probably the all-time best example of a character that sells tickets. He’s been portrayed by six actors over five decades, transforming with the times but never ceasing to be who he is. Sean Connery introduced the concept of the character, George Lazenby cameoed in a film with emotional power, Moore took the series to high-concept plots and camp hijinx, Timothy Dalton brought a hard edge to the series, and Pierce Brosnan managed to combine bits of previous Bonds for an iconic take as Bond raced to the twenty-first century with bigger budgets and more spectacle than ever.

What was left to do at this point? Turns out, quite a bit. Daniel Craig’s announcement as the next Bond raised some outrage for his against-type look, but Casino Royale and Skyfall have more than proven he was worthy of the legacy. For his first outing, Eon got the director who launched their last Bond. With more creative freedom to push the limits of what a Bond movie could be, Martin Campbell and company went to 007’s origins to rebuild him from the ground up. So finally, Ian Fleming’s original novel would have an official adaptation.

What Went Right?

Casino Royale is an exceptionally well constructed action movie with a thorough understanding of its main character and what it wants to do with him. The film strips Bond of his gadgets, his pathological sexual conquest, and most of his cheesy one-liners, reducing him to the cold, ruthless killing machine that Ian Fleming originally created. The opening scene portrays the grit and lack of grace that comes from a first kill, taking away the glamour. The insane parkour chase shows a James Bond who is a reckless, brutal force of nature.

The film also firmly cements itself as one of the all-time great action films. The parkour chase, the Raiders of the Lost Ark inspired airport battle, and the stairway fight in Montenegro are all top notch action scenes that could easily be the climactic final scene in any other movie. Here, they are used to show us who Bond is; what his job is and how he does it. Once that’s established, the core of the film is less action heavy, and more focused on challenging Bond on a mental level. James faces opposition to his ego from both his enemy Le Chiffre and the film’s Bond girl, Vesper Lynd.

Vesper, played by the perpetually underrated Eva Green, is my favorite Bond girl by a wide margin. She isn’t at all impressed by his bravado and put on charm, and more than matches wits with him in their inspired verbal jousting. Instead, their romance comes from mutual suffering and the human moments that follow. The stairway fight is exciting, but the scene of them recovering from the shock in the shower is an even stronger one. Their connection feels genuine, making the film’s final act all the more devastating.

Speaking of actors who can’t seem to get their due in a major Hollywood film, Mads Mikkelsen kills it as Le Chiffre. A man with a totally understandable goal, he is both desperate and brilliant and a perfect foil for Bond. Their back and forth at the poker table, as well as Chiffre’s attempts to kill him and torture him after, are major highlights. And James never really gets the upper hand; despite his memorable one liner in the torture scene, it is only through someone else’s interference that Bond survives the encounter. I don’t know if Le Chiffre lives up to Goldfinger or Blofeld as an all-time great, but he is a great antagonist.

What Went Wrong?

Like most 007 movies, Casino Royale suffers a bit in terms of pacing and feels a bit longer than it really needs to be. I think part of that is that each third of the movie has a definite end point; the airport scene concludes one part of a narrative that could have been a full movie if they wanted it to be. When Bond and Vesper survive their encounter with Le Chiffre and express their love, it feels like a good ending, but there is more to come. I don’t know what should be cut, but I do know that it starts to creak under its weight a bit.

That said, one thing I know I would cut if I could is Mathis explaining every bit of the rules to Vesper Lynd when Bond is playing Texas Hold ‘Em. I totally understand why it’s there, since not every viewer is familiar with poker. But every time I rewatch, it gets more and more annoying. If I could have a cut that just lets me focus on Bond and Le Chiffre playing each other, I absolutely would.

Lastly, there is an argument to be made that the film strays so far from the classic Bond presentation that it isn’t quite a 007 film. I don’t know if they would automatically improve the film, but it is odd to have a James Bond movie without Miss Moneypenny or Q involved. Unsurprisingly, both made it into the next big success for Bond, 2012’s Skyfall.

What Went Really Right?

I’m not going to say that Casino Royale is inarguably the best Bond film ever made. It is my favorite by a wide margin (with Goldfinger being second), but obviously everyone is going to have a different opinion. What I can say is that this was a perfect deconstruction of what Bond is; the ultimate male power fantasy. He is hypermasculine, full of ego, aggression and machismo. It’s entertaining and charming, but the film also understands that undercutting it makes Bond more vulnerable and more interesting. M and Vesper Lynd are strong female characters that more than hold their own against him. Le Chiffre targets his ego, and then in a very direct way, attacks his manhood.

The deconstruction allows this Bond to feel more human, less hokey, a perfect Bond to follow the excess of Brosnen’s later movies. And with Daniel Craig’s unique charm, genuine chemistry with his supporting cast and some of the greatest action scenes ever put to film, it more than fills the void. And there are so many little things that make this movie awesome; the Straight Flush, the insane number of car flips in one take, Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” set against one of the all time best Bond credit scenes. It holds up extremely well and I feel we will be talking about it as a true classic in a few years.

Like This Column?
Check out previous editions!
Jurassic Park
Back to the Future
Taxi Driver
The Matrix
Batman (1989)
King Kong (1933)
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The Dark Crystal
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The Godfather
The Godfather, Part II
The Silence of the Lambs

Or check out my column with Michael Ornelas; “From Under A Rock”. Last week, we knocked a major film off my bucket list with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This week, we will be watching 2009’s animated Wonder Woman film in anticipation of her big screen feature.

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I log reviews for every film I see, when I see them. You can see my main page here. Recent reviews include GoldenEye, The Little Mermaid and Rear Window, a film which will likely be tackled on this column at some point.