I never saw Goldfinger on the big screen. Perhaps if I had I would have something to reference my experience watching Casino Royale last night. As a James Bond fan seeing Goldfinger on opening night in 1964 is probably the only experience that might have come close. Only if I had been there could I say for sure what I now believe; Casino Royale is by far the best James Bond film ever made.
Let me give you a little bit of information about myself to qualify this opinion. Since The Living Daylights I have walked out the theatre after every new James Bond film with the feeling that I had just seen the best James Bond film, then after a few months and a few more viewings I have come down to earth and the movie slides down into its position in my list of favourite Bond films. This effect, I believe, is because of the excitement of seeing a new James Bond film gigantic, for the first time up on the big screen, just outweighs seeing the other films for the umpteenth time on the television. Hence, the virgin viewing of Tomorrow Never Dies trumps the seventy-fourth viewing of Goldfinger.
Casino Royale, however, is different. I’ve never left the theatre with this great of a feeling about a new Bond film. Never.
You see, Casino Royale is a complete experience. It not just a great Bond film. But also a great film. Casino Royale has achieved something the no other Bond film has achieved; it has three dimensions.
The Creature From The Black Lagoon.
I never saw The Creature From The Black Lagoon on the big screen in 3-D. But I did see a trailer for it when I went to see another lousy 3-D film. The Creature’s trailer in 3-D blew me away with the depth of the three dimensional effect. This was the same way that Casino Royale affected me, only Casino’s depth was of character and plot, and not of special cameras and glasses.
I’ll start with Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond. Craig made James Bond a real person rather than a character. Craig let me feel Bond’s emotions, amazingly even when he was suppressing them. Craig showed me how James Bond could truly fall in love. Craig made me feel the danger and the fear, and made me see how this man Bond could stand up to them.
Now I love Sean Connery’s James Bond, but the depth just isn’t there. Nor is it there for Lazenby or Moore. The depth Dalton added was a mere embossing. And Brosnan’s attempts to add depth to the character were less The Creature From The Black Lagoon and more Sharkboy and Lavagirl, a movie that would flash on the screen in big text, ‘Put your 3-D glasses on we’re going to add depth now’.
Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd was more than three dimensional. I don’t know how many of you have had higher maths, but I recall in some calculus class or another being taught about four dimensional objects moving through three dimensional spaces, and while the object would be of one solid shape in four dimensions, in three it would appear to be a fluid, changing object that could be only truly understood if viewed in four dimensions. Such was the character of Vesper, only at the end of the film, when we knew all of Vesper’s dimensions, did her character’s actions through the film truly take shape. Enigmatic is the word that has been used to describe Vesper, and Miss Green’s complex yet simple approach to Vesper plays perfectly to the word. You see Vesper is a character of… shall we say ‘burdens’ to keep this review spoiler free. Her burdens dictate how she interacts with Bond. And only when seen with that extra dimension is her character’s form fully understood. Until then its concept and its beauty is just a wonder to behold. Miss Green’s own beauty on the other hand is obvious through the whole film.
Mads Mikkelson turned one of Ian Fleming’s most ordinary villains into the James Bond series’s most fascinating. It has been pointed out that that Le Chiffre is not the megalomanic, ‘let’s start World War III’ type Bond villains, but Le Chiifre unlike all Bond main villains is not even the most evil person in the film. While he is not the greatest evil, he is the centre of evil. Mikkelson plays this near perfection. The fear, the fearlessness, the confidence, the desperation, the sadism, the creepiness (with some points going to the makeup department) each flow steadily from the villain.
Casino’s lesser players each are displayed in Glorious 3-D Characterisations too. Judi Dench’s M is surprising. Let’s get this straight right now, this is not the same M that gave orders to Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond. This time M is the relic of the Cold War and this time she really does ‘have the balls’.
Giancarlo Giannini as Mathis makes the best Bond ally ever. His character comes straight from the novel, yet his story improves on the novel.
Felix Leiter as played by Jeffery Wright manages to do as much with Felix as any of those who had taken the role before him, but with barely the screen time of John Terry.
Die Hard, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The French Connection, anything Jackie Chan.
Okay, now these films I saw on the big screen and action-wise, Casino Royale is in these films’ league. More French Connection in Casino’s grit and ability to weave the action into the artistry. More Die Hard and Lost Ark in adrenaline. And Jackie Chan because… well, I’m a big Jackie Chan fan precisely because with every stunt and every action set piece you truly believe that Jackie could get seriously hurt or maybe killed. Casino takes that a step further, while you may know that Jackie Chan might get hurt, you believe his character will survive just fine. (That makes the action greater, but downgrades the film). In Casino you believe that James Bond may not survive. Craig’s Bond may sustain more injuries in this film than a Jackie Chan blooper reel, and definitely more than the previous Bonds had combined.
Never has Fleming’s writing been given this much respect. The movie actually felt like the novel. Now Msrs. Purvis, Wade, and Haggis may have updated every inch of the story contained in Ian Fleming’s first novel yet still managed to make the only Bond film that felt like the novel it was adapted from. Sure, From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are very true content of the novels. Casino Royale is true to much more. It is true to its novel’s spirit. It is true to its novel’s soul.
A few Bond fans and so-called Bond fans predicted this new film would have Ian Fleming making one of his famous turns in his grave that they seem to think he performs regularly; if true, this roll will be only because Fleming realised the changes that could have been made to improve his first novel. One twist added to a Fleming-sacred character was such an improvement to the story that if the late Mr Fleming’s casket were ever to stir, it surely would have been when that missed opportunity was penned on to the script.
I wasn’t born yet. But Casino Royale’s love story set against mystery, intrigue, and danger is near or on this level. Craig’s James Bond and Bogart’s Rick Blaine each in love with Green’s Vesper Lynd and Bergman’s Ilsa Lund respectfully. The parallels are there, only Casino is absent its Victor Laszlo, which surprisingly only makes its love triangle more compelling. And Bond’s final line about Vesper bites harder than ‘We’ll always have Paris’.
A Classic? I’m really comparing Casino Royale to a Classic? Yes, I am, and I am going to state right here and now that Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson have finally stepped out of the shadow of the James Bond series’ great patriarch, one Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, and in doing so have finally surpassed him. In doing so they have given us a new Classic.
Now, I must tell myself that after a few months and a few more viewings I may very well come down to earth and Casino Royale will slide down below Casablanca into its position in my list entitled Best Films Ever Made. It will, however, undoubtedly forever remain atop my list of Best James Bond Films.
At least, until Bond 22 arrives.
Casino Royale Rating:
Evan Willnow @ 2006-11-19