Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Backwards Bond 1: Casino Royale

| by Justin Thomas |

Here are a few easy questions. Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? I prefer Coke. Which band is better, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Beatles, and it isn’t even a contest. What color of M&Ms lets you take the ball downtown? Green. Of Arthur Fiedler, John Williams and Keith Lockhart, who is your favorite conductor of the Boston Pops? John Williams mostly because he looks like my high school band teacher. Who’s the world’s most-famous clown? Bozo.

Then there’s the one question that, prior to 2006, I could not answer.

Who is your favorite James Bond?

I didn’t have a favorite Bond because until 2006 I’d never seen a James Bond film. Not a single film start to finish, and I’m clueless as to how I made it so many years without seeing one. Maybe I was busy. Today I can answer the question with Daniel Craig but even that is a poor answer because I have nothing to compare him to as Casino Royale remains the only James Bond film I’ve seen. Maybe I was still busy, I don’t know, but it leaves me with two options: either only ever see one James Bond film and call it a day or see them all, so I’m making the decision to write about 22 James Bond films because writing 22 times about Casino Royale seems like a bit of overkill.

Could I go back, start with Dr. No and work my way through all 22 in order? Of course, but that’s how everyone did it. It’d be far more unique to go backwards by Bond, from Craig to Connery, to see what the fuss is about. Will I hate Lazenby without the baggage of Connery, or will the baggage of Moore make me hate Lazenby, and why is it a foregone conclusion I’ll hate Lazenby? Will his wonderful role in Hot Fuzz make me love Dalton as Bond, a luxury he didn’t have at the time he played 007? Is it possible to take issue with a man as charming as Brosnan over anything, or will Craig prove to be too much for him? These are questions I’m dying to have answered and it’s simply a matter of taking the time to watch a bunch of movies to get those answers.
So watch this space as I do the unthinkable, perhaps the unforgiveable, of going backwards through Bond.


Writing about Casino Royale 22 times might be overkill, but there is a lot to talk about with it. It features a mystery and skillfully reveals its hand to keep secret the resolution until Bond’s visit to Mr. White. It has a tremendous amount of humor and it starts right away: after Bond’s chase of Mollaka, during which they run, climb, jump and explode all over Madagascar, Bond gently removes the bomb from Mollaka’s backpack. There are references to previous Bond films so ubiquitous even a Bond neophyte gets them: the Aston Martin, shaken or stirred and Miss Stephanie Broadchest.

The most-striking aspect of Casino Royale is how much we learn about this version of Bond in the opening sequences with sparse dialogue from Bond himself. Casino Royale allows the images to present the ideas and trusts in the audience to get them, with or without prior knowledge of James Bond, to get to know him.

Bond is a blunt instrument, shown several times early and later confirmed by M in a line of dialogue. While chasing Mollaka he doesn’t hop on a motorcycle and expertly race through construction workers. No, he hops in a bulldozer and plows through anything and everything in his path. The grace of Mollaka’s escape attempt is countered by Bond running, literally, through a wall. He needn’t be the quickest on the trigger and shoot ten men at the embassy to escape because he can just blow up a propane tank and get away while they’re distracted. These aren’t just cool bits of action sequences; they’re character-defining images all free of dialogue.

Bond won’t be a superhero superspy in Casino Royale because he’ll make mistakes, and it’s shown in the opening sequence and confirmed later in the movie. While he thought his first kill was dead, he wasn’t completely, which was his first mistake. Later he’ll think he’s covertly shadowing Dimitrios, which doesn’t turn out to be so covert. His earpiece is seen by one of Obanno’s goons, which leads to Obanno’s death. These character traits were all established by that opening scene and established without dialogue.

Bond will be resourceful and use everything at his disposal to accomplish his mission relatively free of uber-cool gadgets, which is shown during his brief career as a valet. Rather than take offense at being told to park the Range Rover he takes it and uses it to get security away from its control room. He’ll understand what Ellipsis means and realize he doesn’t need M to step in and help him through the airport. He’ll find a better use for the detonator originally intended to vaporize the plane. He knows to grab phones and use them later. He knows enough to pay attention to what’s around him, and it’s all confirmation of character traits established through action, not dialogue.

Casino Royale has good dialogue, fun dialogue, but rather than talk away the movie Casino Royale uses it wisely. A script polish from talkie writers (Mamet, Tarantino, Smith) could have added really cool lines, maybe, but they’d be unnecessary. It’s rather refreshing to see a movie of this type allow visuals to do so much work because it’s unique and it illustrates a belief in the audience’s intelligence.

**this post was originally posted on cosmictoaststudios.com**

No comments:

Post a Comment