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  1. First Looks Part VI: Every Legend has a Beginning

    An Article by Ed
    Harris

    Casino Royale (2006)

    After Pierce Brosnan’s departure from the role of James Bond, the search was on for a new man to take on the role of 007. After a rather protracted search, the producers finally found their man in Daniel Craig, and James Bond got a new look.

    Casino Royale is easily one of the best debuts for a new 007 and the best entry in the series in some time. Rather than going for “business as usual”, the filmmakers decided to shake things up in a way that hadn’t been tried since Timothy Dalton’s tenure.

    The Film In General

    The shaking up begins as soon as the film starts with a gorgeous black and white pre-title scene as James Bond earns his 00-status. Though it probably is a bit too short for its own good, it gets its point across efficiently and introduces us to our new James Bond in a stark, brutal manner. First Looks - Part VI: Casino RoyaleCraig plays the scene with Dryden very well and the fight, as noted above, is quite brutal considering how little of it we see.

    I like how the gun barrel scene is set up, though the main title song is not one of my favorites. Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” does grow on you after a few listens but it’s still not all that great. I do, however, like the main title sequence itself. Like the rest of the film, it’s a bit retro in feel and scaled down somewhat.Daniel Craig is James BondThe playing card motif works and the only complaint I have is that we don’t get the customary silhouettes. I know the filmmakers are going for something different but the motif could have easily been kept the same without making this particular change.

    The brief intro to our villains is nicely done with a bare minimum of exposition that still gives us a very clear idea of who everybody is. It’s a nice change to have a main villain in Le Chiffre who is essentially just a banker and in terms of authority, actually number three in terms of who we meet. Mr. White obviously employs him and Obanno and White answers to whomever we meet in the new film this winter.

    This brings us to the highlight of the film for me in terms of action, the free running sequence. It’s set up quite well and presents a wonderful contrast between the opponents. On the one hand, you have a bomb maker with an uncanny athletic ability. With Bond, you have a certain improvisational quality and a dogged determination that makes for some classic Bond moments: catching the gun and throwing it, smashing through a wall like he’s the Hulk. The bit on top of the crane is another bit I want to highlight as it’s maybe the most breathtaking thing I’ve seen in an action film in quite a while. The music and cinema photography has a suitably epic quality to it and the fighting looks very real and believable. The huge leaps following it up are great as well as the bad guy can make a relatively easy landing each time while Bond is crashing down hard but shaking it off quickly and coming on even stronger. It builds to the embassy where we get a little bit of gunplay before being forced to blow the mission in order to escape.

    The next two scenes are nice, lean moments establishing Le Chiffre’s physical quirk (weeping blood, now there’s a nice bit of weirdness that’s been missing from the series for the most part) as well as the financial troubles he’s looking at. M’s first scene is also nice as it provides a slightly different take on the woman we’ve seen before. With Brosnan’s Bond she was dealing with a seasoned pro but here, the timeline has been altered so that Bond has recently gotten his 00-status (but is nowhere near being a rookie to be sure) and therefore acts more as an instructor than we’ve seen. It’s a nice change of pace, as is everything else in the film.

    The following scene in M’s house is nicely done as well with Dench showing some true anger as opposed to the usual grouchiness we get from the character (regardless of who’s playing him/her). It also allows for a bit of humor with the near revelation of her real name, a nice touch. I love how Bond is portrayed in this film, almost like a pitcher who has just been called up to the big leagues. He’s got the tools but still needs to work on his mechanics. In this case, there is a certain lack restraint and judgment that leads to impulsive decision making. It works for this version of Bond and Craig plays it subtly enough so that we’re not beaten on the head with it. It leads to the subtext of the film quite well. If Goldeneye was about Bond finding a place for himself in the 90’s, then this film is essentially about a man learning how to do his job really well.

    The Nassau/Miami sequence is another great stretch of film. In fact, you could just use that half hour of film and call it a short story, that’s how perfectly it works. It has all the elements of a good Bond story. Nice scenery, a good villain, beautiful women, a bit of sex and violence and some humor tossed on for flavor. Eva GreenI love Bond one-upping the obnoxious tourist (there’s something for me that I can relate to in a strange way, but I’m sure anyone in customer service could for that matter) as a way to get into the hotel and do some genuine spying, and just coldly seducing Dimitrios’s wife. You get Bond’s sense of humor and also just how cold the man can be when he needs to. What makes this film so great is that in the span of just under two and a half hours, we see virtually every facet of Bond’s personality.

    The poker is weaved quite well into the story, replacing the baccarat of the original novel. I think the change is just fine, probably more people are familiar with poker these days and to be honest, the franchise has never been shy about incorporating a pop culture trend (kung fu in The Man with the Golden Gun, dodgy CGI shots in Die Another Day).

    After a great action scene with a nice payoff plus another meeting with M, we’re into there the actual material from the novel kicks in at about an hour into the film. This is a good idea as the book itself is a rather slim volume and realistically could be stretched to about ninety minutes or so in terms of film time. It opens up the film on the front end, letting us get to know this version of Bond before beginning the source material. It helps us connect with the character on a level deeper than “Hey it’s James Bond, cool!”

    It begins with the intro to Vesper, nicely played by Eva Green. The dialogue is superbly put together and a real relationship is built between the two characters. Not exactly hostile, but not overly friendly either. It’s a good starting point and lets both characters be likable. The movie also lets the two fall in love naturally, not just tossing them together because the plot requires it. Mads MikkelsenWe also meet Mathis, quite charmingly played by Giancarlo Giannini. He does a good job and hopefully his character will be expanded on in the next film.

    The poker scenes in this section are mesmerizing. Even if you know absolutely nothing about Texas Hold ’Em (a description which I come close to fitting), the scenes are sharply written, edited and acted so that one is never lost. Also well done is how the film makes certain updates to elements of the novel. The poisoning bit works just fine and is a bit more cinematic for today. The drink order is used as a way to get into Le Chiffre’s head, a nice touch I always enjoy seeing. Bond is always amusing when playing mind games with the bad guy and Craig doesn’t disappoint here.

    The relationship and intro scene after the credits is advanced with the stairwell fight. It’s a nicely brutal; affair and Bond’s comforting of Vesper later on is touching and effective. I also love Bond’s remark to Le Chiffre after the fight when the change of shirt is noticed.

    Bond losing all his money and his reaction is well done, as is the intro to Felix Leiter. We’ve seen the man in a few shots prior to this, always focusing on his reactions and Jeffrey Wright plays the character well for the brief screen time he has. The cleaning out of Le Chiffre is another entertaining bit of suspense and one truly gets a sense of relief during the dinner scene between Bond and Vesper.

    This leads us to the torture scene, probably the most difficult scene of the book to get right. Done incorrectly, it could have been either ridiculous or simply repellent and impossible to watch. The filmmakers do a smart thing by basically having Bond turn into the biggest wiseass in history by essentially blowing off the torture and saying either way, Le Chiffre will die after scratching another man’s groin. It’s a ballsy move (no pun intended) and works amazingly well.

    The film, like the novel slows down a bit for the relationship to come to its final resolution and the film does a nice job of keeping momentum by not dwelling on any scene for longer than it has to. It replicates the final act of the novel pretty closely with only the build to Vesper’s suicide changing to something more visual and cinematic. The action scene is done well enough and while it’s not perfect, there are enough cool bits in it to make it worth it.

    The coda is also great as it pays off everything we’ve seen on the corners of the film. The music has been teasing us with the traditional Bond theme throughout and slowly but surely, the 007 we all know and love has been emerging. It pays off wonderfully with a great movie star intro for Craig to end the movie and his delivery of the signature line which takes us into the end credits.

    All in all, this is the best Bond film in quite some time. Virtually everything is perfect and only a slight faltering in the last part keeps it from being the best.

    Craig's Performance

    Daniel Craig makes a great first entry as Bond. He handles pretty much everything well and makes the character his own, something Brosnan, as much as I like him and his take on Bond, never did. Hopefully the quality will continue into the next film.

    Final Thoughts

    The character of James Bond is one of the most entertaining to watch on screen. Each man who has played him has brought something different to the table that worked for them. Connery was suave and smooth, coolness personified in one man. Lazenby brought a rough, fairly realistic untried quality that is helped by the fact that he was acting for the first time. Moore exuded an indestructible confidence and Dalton was gritty realism. Brosnan brought a blend of the best of each actor and Craig makes the character his own.

    I hope you have enjoyed this look at the debuts of each Bond actor.

    Guest writer @ 2008-04-23
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