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Uncovering the Romantic Bonds:
a movie review of Casino Royale
by Charles Lord
Royale, the latest installment in the
James Bond saga is a remarkable and enjoyable achievement outshining the
ones that came before it. So
brilliant by comparison we are left a bit puzzled, if not embarrassed, by
our enthusiasm for bygone Bonds. Like football, maybe we
learned to appreciate those earlier Bonds
environmentally, so to speak--from the enthusiasms of others around us (or
in the case of us post-baby-boomers) from the inescapable importance these
movies just already seemed to
have? Assuming they
entertained you in the first place, comparing the old bond and the new is
the difference between gratification and pleasure.
Casino Royale James Bond (Daniel Craig) has just achieved “00”
status. Yet no sooner does he get
his license to kill then London becomes concerned he’s using it too
cavalierly. Ordered to take a
‘holiday’ while ‘M’ (Judi Dench) decides his fate, Bond,
unrepentant and undeterred, follows a lead to the Bahamas.
Eventually he uncovers what essentially is a ‘bank’ for global
terrorists headed by a nefarious financier named le chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Instead
of investing his clients’ loot in the no-risk, interest-generating
portfolios they expect, le chiffre
uses it to speculate in markets he intends to manipulate (ruthlessly and
catastrophically of course). Bond
foils the plot.
alone sums-up many a Bond tale yet it’s only the first, and arguably
least important part of Casino
Chiffre’s otherwise foolproof scheme ruined, he must earn back the money before the terrorists can find him and
repay his betrayal. A math genius
with a penchant for poker, he convenes
an ultra-high-stakes Texas Hold’em card game into which James Bond (as
if bankrolled by the British nation itself) is entered.
Next, enter accountant and Bond-girl Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) sent
to oversee Bond’s gambling with government funds.
The competitive foreplay between the two, each painting the other
as their intellectual and emotional inferior, while common enough for
romances works to uncommonly entertaining effect in a Bond movie.
comparison pre-Casino Royale-Bonds were essentially comedies. Comedic
tales told in terms of
espionage--of farcical villains, preposterous plots and gee-wiz gadgetry
all interwoven with a chauvinism designed to be laughable.
Yet Casino Royale
bear’s witness to Bond the
comedy transformed into Bond the
romance, from Bond the lothario to Bond the lover (On his majesty’s secret service (1969) with George Lazenby and
Dianna Rigg notwithstanding). Still,
adrenaline junkies needn’t worry that this touch of romance will rob
them of their action-fix. The
frenetic opening chase that sees James Bond and bomb making mercenary race
up and down construction cranes and girders high above a Madagascar coast
should assuage any skeptics as to this movies Bond credentials.
speedy improvisations, fearless jumps and stone punches betray the
instinctual responses of a professionally trained, albeit blue-collar
agent--embodied in Daniel Craig’s hard drill-sergeant jaw, chiseled abs,
large unflinching blue eyes and lips made pouty by fury.
In Craig, Bond the gladiator succeeds Bond the matador.
Where the matador but for his sword and cape is clearly inferior to
the bull, this more martial Bond (bereft of gadget or gimmick) is the
equivalent of his adversaries, cut of the same cloth, just better.
Through admittedly casting genius, the Bond brand with its hallmark
cartoonish violence and caricatured sex slides gracefully from slapstick
to hyperreal, becoming what Umberto Eco calls an “authentic fake.”
Experiencing Casino Royale, at last we genuinely get lost in a simulated world of
espionage—one that of course has never existed.
earnest note struck in the opening chase suggests that
director Martin Campbell’s Bond is turning upon its comedic legacy
(arguably presaged in his earlier Bond effort, Goldeneye).
Instead of relying on formula, Campbell (with screenplay provided
ultimately by the team of Purvis, Wade and Haggis) has made an
honest-to-goodness story: a world where relationships develop; a script
whose intricacies are meant to be followed, that drives to a climax
defined by a hero’s choices rather then how close simply he is to
catching the bad guy.
relationships make this story tick. Casino Royale succeeds at telling a romantic tale (complete with operatic ending) in terms
of espionage. The attraction of
bond-girls-past was presumed to be visual, if not visceral, stunning its
perceiver the moment it was revealed. However
the allure of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) is more complex.
Again, between Bond-girls old and new is the difference between
good-looks and beauty.
Like her relationship to Bond, Vesper’s beauty grows.
That said, Campbell certainly was not hamstrung directing a woman,
master of erotica Bernardo Bertolucci once suggested is ‘so beautiful
it's indecent’—yet another casting marvel.
‘bond’ and new ‘bond-woman’ are Adam and Eve for a new Bond era.
But as the Viennese bard of psychic (and Oedipal) dramas recognized
a century ago, interpersonal dynamics are considerably more than the
superficial back and forth between two people. They emerge from deeper and
prior love triangles. It is Judi
Dench’s ‘M’ that completes this triangle.
Allow me to suggest that the ‘M’ stands for ‘mother’ or
maternal, and that together with James and Vesper, the formative (yes) bonds
at the root of the Bond
story are now exposed! Casino Royale segues between the gendered nature of Bond’s past
and future. Ultimately Casino Royale is a story in two parts: Bond the developed
professional and Bond the developing
person. Combining the two,
the series is rejuvenated, if not reborn. By describing a conscience for
James Bond the character, the
story has provided a subconscious for James Bond the movies—upon which more superficial sequels may now
legitimately be based.
supercedes old, but no bona fide turnabout or revolution casts all that
went before as mere bunk. You must
transcend the past, give it new meaning; you certainly can’t deny it.
New-bond suggests that the chauvinist nature of the bond character
reflects its origins in a particular romance (or in romance itself if you
some are not easily weaned from formula. Perhaps
Bonds were never meant to be anything but comedies.
The comparative lack of a strong nemesis figure might be too
unsettling for some. The bad guy is
well played by Mads Mikkelsen but alas he is not part of our love
triangle, and in a way he is less essential to the film and certainly less
essential to the James Bond myth the film is creating.
Perhaps if Casino Royale
were experienced strictly as a romance and evaluated in terms of the
romance genre alone, it might begin to seem too light.
However, most of us will see this as a Bond film and judge it as
such. We leave the theatre mulling
over the differences between old and new, startled by the movie’s simple
pleasure, intrigued by what future installments could now entail and
pondering whether external forces really could have compelled our
enjoyment for inferior Bonds.
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