Why Mr Bond, we’ve been expecting you
Casino Royale (PG 13) ***
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green
Story in full BLOND. Bloodied. Brutal. It’s funny how the
three things that James Bond has never really been on film
before make this latest outing seem relatively fresh.
Controversially taking over the role from Pierce Brosnan,
Daniel Craig confounds all the boycott-threatening bloggers
with a meaty portrayal of the world’s most conspicuous
secret agent, playing him as someone who not only gets his
hands dirty in surprisingly violent ways, but also shows the
battered and bruised results.
Craig’s Bond is not a suave super-spy who barely breaks
sweat after engaging in some quip-and-kill action. He’s the
kind of 007 who ends up covered in gore as he plays rough
with the bad guys: throwing them down stairs; free-running
across construction sites and destroying half of Venice.
There’s no quick dusting down of the tux before returning to
the party either; he gets so ragged doing his job he has to
change shirts completely.
He even takes several agonising blows to the bollocks for
Britain, feels the pain and suffers through the embarrassing
after-effects. In other words, he’s a more human, more
capable, more vulnerable and more ruthless Bond than most
of his predecessors.
But is this enough to reinvigorate the franchise? Not quite.
Based on Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale
adopts an admirably stripped-down approach after the
CGI-enhanced surfing shenanigans of Die Another Day. Alas,
while it’s being hyped as an origins story that attempts to get
to grips with Bond’s character, the film doesn’t seem to know
how to deliver on this promise. Much of it comes across as an
unhappy compromise between the gritty reality of the Bourne
films, the self-referential smugness of Brosnan’s outings and
a dry, relationship drama.
The latter revolves around Bond and Vesper Lynd (Eva
Green), a sexy Treasury agent sent to keep tabs on Bond as
he gambles with $10 million of the government’s money in a
high-stakes poker game. Soon enough, his flirtation with
Lynd goes beyond the pretence of mutual contempt. He falls
for her. Hard. On paper, at least.
What comes across on screen is a flat, emotionally-stilted
interplay. Blame director Martin Campbell. Craig and Green
are capable of generating on-screen sexiness, but Campbell
doesn’t know what to do with them in the quieter moments,
so nothing really resonates.
He’s deliberately stripped away much of the surface sheen
we’re used to seeing in a Bond movie and the actors are left
exposed, appearing stiff and awkward against the film’s drab
Campbell is not cut out for more character-driven stuff and
his action flicks since GoldenEye – he did the Zorro movies
and Vertical Limit – aren’t known for their depth. For Casino
Royale to have really lived up to its hype, it would have
needed a risk-taker, someone such as Doug Liman, who
practically auditioned for the gig twice with The Bourne
Identity and Mr & Mrs Smith. That’s par for the course with
the Bond series, though. The late Cubby Broccoli famously
turned down Steven Spielberg, and it looks as if his daughter
Barbara is going to stick with his dull formula; it’s rumoured
she turned down Quentin Tarantino.
If only Tarantino had made it, at least we’d be spared Casino
Royale with cheese. Yep, for all the chat about rebooting,
there are still groan-inducing moments, as Campbell
struggles to create any classy signature Bond scenes. The
film’s first Bond girl rides into shot on horseback in a
moment of soft-focus hilarity more befitting a Flake advert.
The only truly Bond-worthy scene comes in the final seconds.
This, together with Craig’s gutsy performance, will probably
send some home convinced Casino Royale is a kind of classic
and, to be fair, it does put the series back on track. But, as
the days go by, you may well find yourself – as Craig does in
the film – wondering not whether you prefer to be shaken or
stirred, but whether you actually give a damn.