01/12/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
This is probably the best James Bond on film and probably the best James Bond film, finds Mark. Daniel Craig's James Bond is gritty and mean and a lot more real, albeit still too much a superhero. He has human fallibility and he gets hurt. The story, closer than usual to the novel for a Bond film, is more like a serious spy novel and less like a children's television show.
Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
On the Internet some fans complained when Daniel Craig was announced as the next James Bond. He seemed wrong for the part. I was not one of them. Now there is serious discussion as to whether or not he is the best Bond. I vote that he is.
In THE ROAD TO PERDITION one of Tom Hanks's boys asks Paul Newman's troublesome son why he is always smiling. He responds "'cause it's all so f*ckin' hysterical" with a smile that chills your blood. I do not think I had ever noticed this particular actor before that though I had undoubtedly seen him. But I knew in those few seconds that I would be seeing this guy again. I did not think of him as James Bond necessarily.
Actually I was rather expecting that Clive Owen would be the next Bond but when Daniel Craig was chosen I was optimistic. Daniel Craig is a guy who is not handsome in the traditional sense. And I do not want a Bond who is particularly handsome - effective spies do not draw too much attention to themselves. In most of the films Bond is a fop who can fight well. My impression of Bond from the books was that he was a thug who could wear a tuxedo. Timothy Dalton was probably my favourite Bond to this point because he looked like he could be mean. But Craig's face is craggy and a little scary at the best of times. When he smiles he looks like he is remembering tearing wings off of flies.
The Eon Production Company people (who made all the "main line" of James Bond films) have just about driven the Bond character into the ground. He had some edge in DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. But by GOLDFINGER he was back to getting a lot of lucky breaks and serendipity like he did in DR. NO. By the time YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE came along he was the world's champion at most things he tried. And ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE had the last worried looks we ever saw on his face.
Well, there was some decent stuff at the very beginning of DIE ANOTHER DAY when he is held prisoner by the North Koreans, but by the middle of the film he was back to Superman, perhaps without the cape but with an invisible car. So what was the choice for the franchise? Back in the 1960s nobody wanted a hero who could kill and not feel bad. 007 with a license to kill actually killed in cold blood once in DR. NO and once in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.
But times have changed and British crime films have gotten more violent with a large body count, Eon probably asked itself why hold back on the license to kill in the Bond films? The newly reborn James Bond is a much more realistic Bond who can kill in cold blood a lot more easily, and does so even before the opening credits. The sequence before the credits is done it stark black and white to establish the grittier feel before going to the bright colors of the credit sequence almost as if they are signaling a rebirth.
The credit sequence is as flashy as the old Maurice Binder sequences, but shows far less female flesh. That is in keeping with the new Bond character who is less womanizer and more action. What else is different about the new Bond? He does not come with a perfect tuxedo. He makes mistakes (big ones that damage the government). He gets hurt (frequently and painfully). He bleeds and he breathes hard after exertion. The villain is very much as Fleming wrote him. And the villain is a desperate man. The villain has real motivation. He has a mathematical mind and asthma rather than something like razor metal teeth. This is not the kind of film that will end with the Queen accidentally seeing Bond making love to the female lead. One definitely has the feeling at the end of the film that whatever happens next, it will not be lovemaking.
What is the same? Well, he is still too much of a superman in the action sequences. There are overly long chase sequences where he shows the agility of a spider monkey and the energy of strong eight men. He still is phenomenally lucky, getting just the right clue at the right time. He also has just the right piece of equipment in his car to get him out of serious trouble. It is current technology, but it is ridiculous to think that anybody carries emergency equipment like this in his car. That was plain bad writing. But not all the writing is as bad. In many ways this film makes fun of the absurdities of the older screen Bonds. (I liked Bond's reaction when asked if his martini should be shaken or stirred. The new Bond is clearly making war on the old Bond.)
The plot will be familiar to Bond fans since it is loosely based on the novel of the same title. This one is actually an origin story for James Bond. James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) has to prove himself to MI6 and M (Judi Dench) in order to get a double-0 classification. He has to kill two people on assignment to be licensed to kill more at his discretion. One he kills with brute force and one with finesse. Vacationing afterward he gets involved with people who are involved with people who are involved with financier to terrorists Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, in the role previously played by Peter Lorre and Orson Welles).
But the plan is not to kill Le Chiffre but to bankrupt him at the gaming tables. Bond is given an assistant, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), but she is definitely not a "Bond Girl." For this task MI6 funds Bond to the sum of ten million. (I do not believe we are ever told ten million what.) To any but the fans of Celebrity Poker it is difficult to make card gambling very interesting, but there is almost always something else going on at the same time.
Now what I would like to see is all the Fleming books redone in order with Craig as James Bond as he was written in the books. I wonder if we will see that. In any case this film gives us a chance to rediscover James Bond on the screen for the first time. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. It is a little strange to see a Columbia logo on a James Bond film.
For those who are interested, this is my listing of the 21 Eon James Bond films from best to worst.
CASINO ROYALE (2006)
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE
LICENSE TO KILL
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME
TOMORROW NEVER DIES
DIE ANOTHER DAY
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN
A VIEW TO A KILL
LIVE AND LET DIE
[NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN and CASINO ROYALE (1967) are not included in this list because they are not Eon productions.]
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2006 Mark R. Leeper