Friday, November 28, 2014

Casino Royale (2006) 3 of 4

** no major Spoilers in this review**

The first film in the grittier, Daniel Craig-starring cycle of James Bond films.  Not being a Bond fan, I would've liked still more grit, but this film has the goods, and there's a surprising and impressive depth to the love story.  Without giving it all away for those who haven't seen it, the film shows how Bond's avoidance of commitment went from disposition to way of life.
Yes, it's the origin story: asked whether he wants his martini shaken or stirred, a testy Bond asks "Do I look like I give a damn?"  It's only toward the end that he introduces himself in the traditional fashion: "Bond.  James Bond."  And like most superheroes, this Bond is an orphan.
You have the essentials for a good Bond film: the flashy action set pieces; the brash, brassy score that evokes romantic, globe-trotting adventure (no time for the imperial guilt of a Jason Bourne film); and the colorful villains who speak with an accent and are undone by their own hubris in combination with the awesome skills of superspy Bond, a.k.a. 007.
Daniel Craig's Bond is a badass, a man determined to act as the perfect "blunt instrument" of his government.  He is the spy as machine, until he's temporarily distracted by the hypnotic, inimitable Eva Green.  You can believe this Bond in an extended foot chase, unlike Roger Moore, and he's just as believable trading punches and enduring torture as he is at the high-stakes poker game.  When his girl gives him the traditional compliment in this type of narrative -- that he's more man than anyone she's known -- it's not just a line.
We can also believe Bond falling for the sultry, velvety Green, who has the kind of eyes that are shaped less like almonds and more like -- legumes?  Papayas?  (We need a name for this.)  Her character has the kind of name that gets my brain working: Vesper Lynd.  Vespers means evening (service), so it evokes endings.  Vesper also evokes breathing (whisper, rasp, exasperate): she becomes life itself for Bond.  Lynd evokes heritage: line, lien, land.  However, Bond is also so in love, so wined and dined, that he's inclined to be blind to Lynd's flaws.
Casino Royale climaxes with an underwater sequence, so common in recent films.  Yes, submarine scenes are cinematic, but I believe there is profound cultural meaning in these matching sequences in dozens of films: Alien: ResurrectionThe Butterfly Effect, Dark WaterInception, The Grey,

My reading, in line with my article in Senses of Cinema, is that the world is in transition away from white-male domination, but rebirth requires a death, so we get scenes that (attempt to) combine drowning with a baptism.  Underwater also represents the unconscious, the part of us that must change if the world is truly going to change.  

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