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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Casino Royale

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, the weekly viewing of something in my DVD/Blu-Ray/VHS library, and then blog about it, because I always wanted to be a "content creator" when I grew up.  Today, we see that not even James Bond is immune from the gritty reboot with Casino Royale.  This appears in my notes at June 8, 2013.

Casino Royale movie poster

Just one more James Bond after this, I swear, then I'll be done with 007 for a good long while.

With the James Bond movies being dirt cheap, I've been upgrading my Bond movies from DVD to Blu-Ray.  The last one left to upgrade was Daniel Craig's first outing, Casino Royale.  And when I saw it was in a nice little 2-pack with his second outing, Quantum of Solace, I figured it was worth the dirt cheap price.

So there was a 4-year gap between Die Another Day and Casino Royale.  In that time, Pierce Brosnan figured he was done and it was time to move on, and we got our new Bond in the form of Daniel Craig.  But something else even more fortuitous happened in that gap.  EON Productions, the makers of the James Bond films, were finally able to obtain the movie rights to the very first James Bond novel, Casino Royale.  See, the movie rights to Casino Royale had been sold in the late-1950s, long before Bond creator Ian Fleming signed all the movie rights over to EON Productions.  So it had been changing hands over the years, with one non-canonical film adaptation being made, the 1967 Casino Royale, which was a spoof of the spy genre. 

Many had expressed interest in adapting Casino Royale over the years, perhaps the best known being Quentin Tarintino.  He mentioned that doing a 100% faithful adaptation of Casino Royale was one of his dream projects.  During the publicity tours for Kill Bill, he claimed to have been in contact with Pierce Brosnan about it, and while Brosnan was eager, the Bond producers were not.  (Probably because they didn't own it yet.) 

But EON finally got Casino Royale back, and there was no question as to what the next James Bond movie would be.  But they decided to take things one step further.  As Batman Begins came out and made gritty reboot origin tales all the rage, they decided to adapt Casino Royale into a James Bond origin story.  It would be one of his first missions, early in his career as a 00 agent. 

As we saw with Star Trek, when you start tossing around the word "reboot" with all these long-running franchises, people get nervous.  The thought of rebooting James Bond really frightened a lot of fans.  And especially with Daniel Craig as the new Bond.  There was a surprising amount of nerd rage at Craig's casting...simply because he's blonde.  He was going to be the the blonde Bond.  I can't believe people had a problem with that. 

But there were steady hands at the helm.  To direct this Bond outing, the producers were able to get Martin Campbell, the director of GoldenEye, back.  And to write the screenplay, Oscar winner Paul Haggis.  Yup, they really went after some big guns. 

I remember when I first saw this in the theatre.  I remember being really impressed by it.  The decision to make Bond grittier and more realistic seemed like a good direction to go in.  And I was shocked at how gritty it was.  This was not a Bond who had a gondola that transformed into a hovercraft.   This Bond was all business.

The film opens with Bond on a mission in Madagascar to track down a terrorist bomb-maker.  But, wouldn't you know it, Bond's made and we get a spectacular parkour-flavoured footchase through a construction site.  What gets me so much about this chase is there's one scene in it.  We've all seen that cop show cliche, where the villain runs out of bullets, and then throws his gun at the hero in a futile attempt.  So we get that scene here, and when the villain throws his gun at Bond, Bond casually catches it, and throws it back at the villain, nailing him between the eyes.  It's hilarious.  The chase ends with Bond almost sparking an international incident when he follows the bombmaker back to an embassy, swipes the guy's cellphone, and then kills him. 

Following the tips on the stolen cellphone, Bond heads to the Bahamas, where he encounters our terrorist, seduces his girlfriend for information, and then learns the terrorist plot is to blow up an airplane at the Miami Airport.  Bond is able to foil it just in time.

And now we get to our real villain of the film...Le Chiffre, banker to the world's superstar terrorists.  Using his mastery of statistics, and the inside information he's privy to on terrorist attacks, turns out Le Chiffre likes to play the stock markets with the terrorist money he's holding on to.  And with Bond having thwarted that latest terrorist attack, Le Chiffre is now deeply in debt to the world's terrorists.  In order to make the money back, Le Chiffre sets up a high-stakes poker tournament in Montenegro at the Casino Royale.  Since Bond is purportedly the best poker player in the service, Bond's new mission is to get into that poker tournament and thoroughly kick Le Chiffre's butt.  Then, when he's thoroughly and completely bankrupt, Le Chiffre will turn to MI6 for protection and rat out the world's terrorists. 

Bond heads off to Montenegro accompanied by Ms. Vesper Lynde of the Treasury Department.  It's $10 million to enter the tournament, plus a $5 million buy back if you lose everything but want to get back into the game.  Vesper is along to keep an eye on the money.  Needless to say, in standard Hollywood fashion, they don't get along so well at first.

They arrive at the casino and the tournament begins.  There are a few bumps along the way.  The terrorists show up looking to kill Le Chiffre, but since they need Le Chiffre alive, Bond is able to take out the two terrorists.  This thoroughly traumatizes Vesper as she's unable to stand the violence, or how Bond is able to shrug off killing two men as "just part of the job."  Bond falls for one of Le Chiffre's bluffs, and loses everything.  Vesper refuses to authorize the $5 million buy back, fearing Bond is starting to get too reckless and is jeopardizing the mission.  Luckily, one of the other players in the tournament reveals himself to Bond to be CIA agent Felix Leiter, at the tournament because the CIA had the same idea as MI6.  Since Bond is the better poker player, Leiter (and the CIA) spot Bond the $5 million.  With Bond on a winning streak, Le Chiffre attempts to poison Bond, but Bond is able to save himself, thanks to some of those James Bond gadgets and some help from Vesper.  When all's said and done, Bond wins and Le Chiffre is ruined. 

But this makes Le Chiffre more desperate.  In an attempt to get the money back from Bond, Le Chiffre kidnaps Vesper and is able to lure Bond into a trap.  With Bond captured, Le Chiffre begins torturing Bond with a technique that makes every man who watches the movie flinch:  he ties Bond to a chair with a hole cut in the bottom, and repeatedly whacks Bond in the balls with a knotted rope.  Much more...gruesome than a slow moving laser, that's for sure.  But, Le Chiffre's employers burst in, kill Le Chiffre, and leave Bond for dead. 

An undisclosed amount of time later, Bond is recuperating in a hospital, and Vesper is at his bedside.  That's when they realize that they're in love with each other.  Not the usual love-em-and-leave-em relationships that Bond usually has...but real, genuine, toe-curling love.  Bond resolves to quit the service and settle down with Vesper, before the job of international spy and assassin robs him of all humanity. 

Bond and Vesper decide to lazily sail around the Mediterranean for a while, before the real world comes crashing down on them.  They arrive in Venice for supplies, when Bond gets a call from M.  M wants to know why the money that Bond used in the tournament hasn't been returned to the Treasury yet.  Bond jumps back into action, and catches Vesper giving the money to Le Chiffre's employers.  A shootout ensues, as the building slowly sinks into the Venetian canals.  Bond attempts to save Vesper from the sinking wreckage, but she rejects his rescue, instead choosing to die.

In the aftermath, the truth is revealed:  Vesper's boyfriend had been kidnapped by Le Chiffre's employers, and they were blackmailing her into helping them.  Bond was left to to die on the night Le Chiffre was killed because she promised to get them the money if they let Bond live.  And she chose to die because she knew that shadowy terrorist organization would never let her be at peace with Bond.  Bond rescinds his resignation and gets back to work, but as he checks his phone, he sees a final gift from Vesper:  she texted him the name and number of the man who was blackmailing her.  Bond hunts him down to his Italian villa and shoots out his knees.  The man looks up at Bond and asks, "Who are you?"  With this adventure having transformed him into the superspy we all know and love, Bond responds with his trademark greeting:  "The name's Bond.  James Bond." 

Casino Royale is still pretty damn awesome.  I still say that Skyfall is the best of the Daniel Craig era, but Casino Royale is now a close second.  In doing an origin story, they really wound up doing a character study of Bond, and we really start to see how he ticks...how yes, he's not able to shrug off killing people so easily, and he still has a conscious under all that.

I almost left out the character of Mathis...the chief MI6 agent in Montenegro, who forms a trinity with Bond and Vesper.  This is an old vet who's become very laid back about his job, but still enjoys it.  He makes a great foil for our group.

And as I do love the music of the James Bond films, once again have to applaud David Arnold for a great score.  Since this was an origin tale, they chose to use the James Bond theme in a very limited capacity, since they felt Bond had to "earn it."  Instead, Arnold takes the opening credits song, You Know My Name, and weaves it into the score as an alternated James Bond theme, and it really works.  For some reason, there's this one cue that plays when we watch a high speed train cruising across the countryside that just always stands out for me.

Casino Royale is a great film, and served as a great reboot from James Bond.  It's just good.

PS  I forgot to mention, this being a reboot, there was some fun poked at the cliches of the franchise.  For example, both Bond and Vesper childishly giggle and roll their eyes when they see that Vesper is supposed to go by the alias "Ms. Broadchest." 

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