Saturday, August 15, 2015

Casino Royale Review

17 years. That's how long I went without watching a single Bond film. Way back in 1997 I went to see Tomorrow Never Dies in the theater with a buddy and frankly, I didn't care for it. I don't recall the specifics as to why, but I can still see images of Pierce Brosnan and Teri Hatcher gallivanting around the screen and I know I wasn't really interested in reliving the experience again. It felt like the death of a franchise for me, which sounds heartbreaking but I was never married to it to begin with. I could easily live with 007 in my life.

Fast forward to 2014 and I couldn't ignore the bouquets being tossed in the direction of the Sam Mendes helmed Skyfall. I told myself writing off Bond because of such a dated sour taste in my mouth was ridiculous and perhaps I was missing out on something special as a result. I had to give the new entry a shot, and that is an aspect of these films that I do completely appreciate, the fact that you can essentially jump in anytime you want and never feel lost.

So I dived head first into Skyfall and what a refreshing, invigorating experience it was. The film had a tone to it that I never associated with the franchise in the past, as I had always paired the name James Bond with the word silly. Nothing about Skyfall is silly. The set pieces, the cinematography by the brilliant Roger Deakins, the performance from Daniel Craig in the iconic lead role. Javier Bardem the villain. I was hooked early, I fell in love throughout. I knew I needed to open myself to the previous Daniel Craig entries. 

Thus here we are, my next step in my Bond evolution by going into the past a bit, back to 2006 when Craig first stepped into the rather sizable shows in Casino Royale and yet again I find myself impressed. The pacing only on the rarest occasion tends to feel borderline languid but anytime I began teetering away from being completely compelled, something would happen that pulled me right back in. The film, while not quite as jaw dropping and ocular-gasmic in the photography department as the dazzling Deakins, is still crisp and appealing enough to keep my retinas glued to every frame. Craig again is exactly what I would want from a Bond, a serious yet quietly charming, intense yet believable in moments when he maintains his cool kind of guy. 

Shockingly, the women are yet again beautiful here but who would expect any less? It's a Bond film and it comes with the territory. Caterina Murino, Ivana Milicevic, and Eva Green, who I will admit I found distracting at times because of her strange facial expressions reacting to various situations. When things got intense, a strange facial expression. When she was confused, strange facial expression. When she was concerned, strange facial expression. The only times she seemed natural and convincing was when she was asked to either be sexy or actually emotionally traumatized, as a scene of her sitting in the shower trying to wash figurative blood from her hands was a moving moment. 

Interestingly, a lot of my enjoyment during a film involving poker hinges on how the game is represented on screen. I am a man who loves to sit down at the felt and play some intense and pressure filled hands of Hold'em, so when the rules of the game are butchered in a screenplay it drives me nuts. Do some research and display it accurately if you feel it is necessary to include it. Casino Royale has multiple scenes involving high stakes action and the results here are a mixed bag. On the one hand, I am pleased as punch that the rules were adhered to throughout showing that those involved in the writing process had a strong knowledge of the game, but the quality of hands players were achieving on a regular basis was absurd. It built up the dramatic stakes and probably elicited some gasps from the audience, each player turning over an amazing hand only to have it trumped by the next in line, but for me it only earned an eye roll. A small potatoes complaint, I know, but it still did detract from the overall experience for me. 

Regardless, Casino Royale is a rock solid slice of Bond that makes me feel like I will certainly dig the follow up, Quantum of Solace. I hope so at least, because after going more than half my life without believing in the Bond brand, I'm back. I'm so very, very back.



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