Saturday, November 3, 2012

Casino Royale

This is the oldest movie I've reviewed for this blog, and it's obviously not a coincidence. I've been looking forward to the newest entry in the 007 franchise ever since it was announced, and have recently re-watched the previous installments in preparation for its release. I toyed with the idea of doing retrospective reviews of Christopher Nolan's Batman series when "The Dark Knight Rises" came out, and even considered reviewing all of the Bourne movies prior to seeing "The Bourne Legacy". Maybe it's because I haven't seen the Bond films as much as the other franchises, but I've finally decided to pull the trigger. I was on my mission when this movie was released in theaters, but younger companions who had seen it prior to entering the field absolutely raved about it. I therefore went into this film with fairly high expectations. Given that these movies have been out for several years, I am going to be discussing spoilers. If you haven't seen "Casino Royale", just skip the next three paragraphs entirely.

Casino Royale is a pseudo origin story about the famous James Bond (Daniel Craig). Bond is a tough, reckless agent for Britain's MI6 agency who has a reputation for causing headaches for M (Judi Dench), the agency's director. Following a particularly explosive outing in Madagascar while investigating a bomb-maker, M would like nothing more than to suspend Bond for his foolish escapades, but is forced into enlisting 007's help instead. MI6 is tracking a financer named Le Chiffre, who not only cries blood, but makes his living by short-selling stock in successful companies and sabotaging their share prices through terrorist attacks. Bond follows Le Chiffre to Miami, where he thwarts the terrorist's attempt to destroy an airline's latest prototype.

Following this devastating financial blow, Le Chiffre is forced into orchestrating a high-stakes Texas Hold 'em  tournament in order to recoup the funds. Though M doesn't trust Bond, she also recognizes him as the agency's most accomplished card player and assigns him to the Casino Royale. Bond meets treasury agent, Vesper Lynd en route to the tournament (who has been assigned to keep an eye on the rash 007) and quickly develops an attraction to the brunette. During the game, Bond discovers Le Chiffre's tell and, using the money given to him by CIA agent Felix Leiter, Bond once again spoils the terrorist's plans. Shortly after turning the villain's capture over to Leiter, however, Bond realizes Vesper has been kidnapped and follows in close pursuit. He narrowly avoids running over her bound and gagged body in the middle of the road but crashes his car violently in the process. Now captured, Bond is subjected to unspeakable torture by Le Chiffre, who wants the code to access the tournament winnings. Bond refuses, bolstered by the idea that Le Chiffre's clients will hunt him down for his terrible miscalculation. This happens much sooner than Bond expected, however, and a Mr. White interrupts the torture, killing Le Chiffre and his men. 

Bond awakens in a rehabilitation center in Italy, where he and Vesper rekindle their romance. 007 promptly tenders his resignation to M, choosing a path of "redemption" and travelling with Vesper to Venice instead. However, one day Bond realizes the winnings were never transferred to the treasury's account and he follows an apparently traitorous Vesper as she delivers the funds to Mr. White. A gunfight ensues and the floating building begins to sink as the inflatable supports keeping it afloat are punctured. Bond kills the men but is unable to rescue Vesper, who has locked herself in a steel cage and drowns. Meanwhile, Mr. White recovers the briefcase containing the Casino Royale winnings and escapes. Bond later learns that Vesper had a boyfriend who was kidnapped by Mr. White's organization and blackmailed for into cooperation. M insists that Vesper delivered the funds to Mr. White in exchange for Bond's life, though he doesn't believe it. After rejoining the service, Bond tracks down Mr. White demanding answers for Vesper's death, introducing himself as "Bond... James Bond".

As evidenced by the lengthy plot-summary, this movie has a lot going on and can be somewhat confusing. Indeed, it took me a couple of watchings to understand exactly what was going on and why. Needless to say, however, this movie is incredibly exciting. Daniel Craig personifies the ultimate gritty James Bond. His toughness is never in doubt and his emotional struggles are genuinely stirring. As far as the 007 franchise goes, this might be the best. It's certainly indicative of our time, as our modern culture tends to gravitate to more plausible and slightly harsh scenarios in our entertainment. Having said that, it's clear that the aesthetic of this movie was heavily influenced by the highly successful Bourne series. Sometimes it's hard to admit one's mistakes, but thankfully the Bond franchise did just that and performed a much-needed correction. While I was a fan of "GoldenEye", it's clear that the focus of James Bond and what made his story so accessible and enjoyable was completely lost in the decade prior to "Casino Royale". This is a well-deserved comeback for the 50-year old movie icon.

While there are so many things about this movie that I greatly admire, I also found it to be a little hard to watch at times. Not only Bond's torture (which will make any man shrink), but the repetitive, though not unenjoyable scenes at the Casino Royale. I can't necessarily blame the film for that as it seems to be a common trope of any card-playing film. Also, as I mentioned earlier, this movie is a little convoluted and seems to bite off more than it can chew at times. Then again, if the worst thing you can say about a movie is that you need to see it again, it doesn't seem like it's really much of a complaint.

Overall, this is a masterful spy movie. The action is incredibly intense, the espionage complex, and the cinematography beautiful. I highly recommend "Casino Royale" to anybody who hasn't seen it that enjoys action movies in the vein of the Bourne franchise. Those who have seen, I recommend they see it again. I really enjoyed this film, but am so on-the-fence about how many stars to give it. Ultimately I see some room for improvement (which hopefully "Skyfall" will take advantage of) and I've decided to give this film a strong three and a half stars.

CASINO ROYALE is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture and sexual content