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Casino Royale - DVD Review

[Image] Directed by Martin Campbell
2006, 144 min.
Blu-ray Disc, Sony Pictures

by Ian Dunross
December 29, 2007
This review contains spoilers of the film.


“Be afraid...be twice as afraid!” So goes the tagline for Troll 2, the idiotic sequel to its equally idiotic precursor, Troll. Nevertheless, the tagline is just as suitable for Casino Royale, especially when you consider Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, the first Bond girl who resembles a vampiric cadaver. Or perhaps a more fitting tagline, in relation to the miscasting of Daniel Craig, might have been, “What the hell was that? Seriously, what was that?”

These were my initial thoughts after I finally got around to watching Casino Royale on DVD a few days ago. Yes, after a lengthy discussion of the movie (refer to my analysis of the film and the novel) wherein I assert that this is a delightfully stupid movie, I thought I'd give Casino Royale another chance on DVD. In fact, I watched it twice on Blue-ray disc (“That's your own stupid fault,” I hear you saying and you're absolutely correct). Sady to say, with each viewing, the film only got worse. Deep flaws in its conception and execution force me to proclaim that Casino Royale is nothing short of sheer idiocy and is certainly one of the worst movies in the last 10 years in terms of lead actor, screenplay, suspense, lead actress, villain, title song, and credits—well, just about everything.

First, a few words about the high-definition format: film historians have long theorized that high-definition DVD (also known as Digital Velcro Debris or Deeply Vivid Droppings ) is the perfect medium for viewing stupid movies featuring pale craggy guys posing as romantic leads in coming-of-age origin stories; but until the release of Casino Royale, it was only that: a theory. After one solid viewing, I can report that Blu-ray DVD truly conveys (in full 1080p resolution!) an exact replica of the pallid craggy mug of a youthful double-O agent who has just earned his licence to kill—an agent ,mind you, who at almost age 40 learns the hard truth that you can't trust anyone, especially in the espionage business (“You don't trust anyone, do you, Bond?” says M). If that isn't gritty realism with life-like picture quality, it's pretty darn close! As for the format's improved resolution, in some cases it is even better than the actual actor. For example, in Casino Royale, the scenes of those thickly wooded areas of Montenegro are so natural that you actually feel lost in the woods, which is a clever way of forgetting that you're stuck in a 144-minute film starring Daniel Craig.

The Big Question

So is our man Daniel a worthy 007?

When discussing each Bond film's merits, the discussion essentially leads to the actor playing the part. Let's face it: the front end of the series, so to speak, is the actor in the 007 role. He is the face of the series, the ambassador of an institution—which is why casting the part is so difficult. Indeed, there are those who grew up with Sean Connery and who are adamant that he is the only Bond in their eyes. Others who saw Roger Moore as their first 007 can't see the magnetism of Connery—and so on it goes. I've never really had that trouble. By all means let the role be recast, provided that the actor has some semblance to the image that Fleming paints in his dozen or so books.1 What we have with Craig, however, is pure miscasting. Visually distracting, he lacks a commanding presence and breaks the fictional flow of that special world that movies create—that dreamlike sequence of events—because we are forced to wonder why in blazes this guy was cast.

[Image] With all apologies to Mr. Craig, who was affable in the TV interviews he did for the film, I never believed that his Bond could beat up a plastic flamingo, let alone appeal to women as an enigmatic dashing secret agent who could captivate their hearts with just his sheer presence.2 Craig is, quite frankly, a bizarre-looking chap with the beady lifeless eyes of a reptile. There are times when he even comes across as a mesomorphic Vladimir Putin, but his pale haggard mug disrupts that illusion of the Russian politician and forces us to scrutinize his oddly arranged features and his thin bowl haircut.

His overall persona simply makes it impossible for us to take him seriously as a man who could stir a sense of awe from his enemies and provoke women to turn their heads to admire him. Say what you will, but that is the fundamental character, the very mythology, of Ian Fleming's James Bond. Yet Craig has zero credibility. At best, he has all the screen charisma of a Corey Feldman, even a Ricky Schroeder. The scene where he emerges from the Caribbean Sea will live on in the annals of film history, a painful reminder that the series has reached full kitsch in this pigmentless Bond who holds a license to wax his chest and wear tiny, undignified light-blue swimming trunks.

Clearly, the filmmakers lacked even an ounce of creativity and, somewhere along the pre-production phase, they all snapped and delved into a moronic revisionist approach to the Bond character. Craig, on the other hand, has overestimated his own talent. Stone-faced, bleary-eyed, and with disheveled hair, he has a hard time holding his own against a deck of playing cards. He is nothing more than the William Hung of filmdom—a profound underdog who we find ourselves rallying around and cheering on.

The filmmakers were obviously aware of the problem with Craig and, consequently, were forced to present the actor running erratically, dashing from scene to scene, without a sense of purpose. Unfortunately, this relentless action-oriented approach doesn't offer any emotional connection to the character. Gone is Fleming's dashing romantic hero; we have, before us, an uncouth muscled brute, bland as the action heroes from your Bruce Willis' or Sylvester Stallones, and clad in cheap clothes.

[Image] This is in complete opposition to the established characterization that the Bond producers have followed over the years, patterned after Fleming's vision. As longtime producer Michael G. Wilson once said, the element that separates the 007 series from other action films is that “we are still the only real action adventure film, with the sort of suave, European-style leading man.... Action heroes are always blue collar guys with only one t-shirt in their closet. Bond is far more sophisticated with a real brutal side underneath” (Giammarco 25). Sadly, during the lengthy search of finding a replacement for Pierce Brosnan, Wilson forgot everything he knew about the Bond role.

We can at least be thankful that the filmmakers have enough intelligence to keep Craig's dialogue to a minimum; yet when he does speak, he is as catatonic as ever.3 Complex imperative lines such as "Look out!" sound unnatural and strained through his monotone voice. Other than that, Craig gives the impression that he watched a lot of Van Damme movies, considering the way he resorts to clenched teeth and eyes in full bulge during the action scenes. Jason Statham will be seeking him for lessons on how to be more wooden.

There is, however, a genuine attempt to humanize the Craig-Bond: to ease the pain—and fear—from a bloody fight in a stairwell, he downs a glass of whiskey in his bathroom, which works well but has the unfortunate side effect of making you believe that Oingo-Boingo was a really cool group. The worst thing for him is knowing that the pale Eva Green and her troweling eye-makeup are waiting for him in the hotel lobby. The only thing worse would be knowing that the film has been padded with mindless dialogue from screenwriters Paul Haggis, Neil Purvis, and Robert Wade—the true sum of all fears.

[Image] Unfortunately, there is no mercy, either, from director Martin Campbell, who takes the character to his nadir by stripping him of his connoisseurship: a bartender asks if the Craig-Bond wants his vodka martini “shaken or stirred,” but the hapless agent snaps, “Do I look like I care?” That one line is symptomatic of much that is wrong with the approach of the filmmakers. This Bond is too rough around the edges: the mystique of the gentleman spy—at once a lady killer and an assassin—has been discarded and a half-civilized thug straight from the gutters of Euro-trashland now reigns.

Skip It

The best I can say about the story is that it uses (somewhat) a few elements from the Fleming novel; otherwise, the filmmakers have built an entirely imbecilic plot concerning a stockbroker in cahoots with terrorists. Fleming's suspenseful depiction of a baccarat game is replaced by a tedious sequence of Texas Hold 'Em poker. To enjoy this film, let go of your skepticism that there is intrigue in the world of Texas Hold 'Em. Quell your preconceived notion that Texas Hold 'Em is played only by beer-gutted cowboys, and you'll find a thrilling ride that takes us from the exotic poker tables of Montenegro, to the exotic hotel stairwells of Montenegro, then back to said poker table, then to the hotel rooms, then a return visit to the poker table, then a brief trip to the hotel bar, and then back to the poker table.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the film is this business of Bond's origin, a restart of the series that strives to depict how the Craig-Bond achieves his Double-O status (oh, the nonsense that gets the green light in today's Hollywood!). This is nothing more than a lame attempt at emulating the recent spate of superhero origin stories; for the film only spends about five minutes on this origin-of-the-hero motif.

[Image] Besides, what are we to make of Daniel Craig as a young rookie Bond? Somewhere along the development of this movie, Madam Barbara Broccoli and company lost courage to pursue an in-depth origin story with a very young actor, and what we end up seeing on screen is a profound compromise with a highly improbable “young” Craig-Bond—the guy’s pushing 40, for crying out loud, and masked by an aged scaly mug that gives the impression he is at least several centuries older than his actual age, born at some time in the reign of Henry V.

The most ridiculous aspect of Casino Royale is how remarkably unrealistic this bit of casting is. Newborns are not fooled by it. The preschoolers on my street have questioned why someone was hauled from a retirement home to play a young 007. Is it even medically approved to do such a thing? Wouldn’t the rigorous film schedule strain such an elderly man? I could go on, for the questions from the toddlers are remarkable; but let us agree on one thing: there is no shame in looking old, but an actor disrupts the illusion for his audience when he plays a role more than a century younger than his actual appearance.

The rest of the supporting cast fare no better. Apart from Judi Dench (who really should know better), the cast is comprised of bargain basement international actors. Just listen to some of the distinguished names in this film: Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Isaach De Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic, Tobias Menzies, Claudio Santamaria. The filmmakers, not wanting to disappoint audiences, also include box-office superstar Ludger Pistor (as Mendel) to complete the impeccable cast. This lot certainly defies a proper description. Shameful? Laughable? Simply dreadful? Not even the adverbs help here. To this cast, reciting dialogue isn’t merely a task; it’s a trivial chore. The result falls somewhere between junior high school drama class and people reading lines from a teleprompter.

As bad as they are, there’s just no topping the romantic angle of the film. Where is the sensual mystery—the haunting solitude in human relations—that Fleming depicts in his novel? The literary Bond is mystified by Vesper, a woman who gives little of her personality away by holding a "private room inside her which he could never invade" (157). None of this dark melancholic romance surfaces in the film. Instead, the romance is condensed into a montage (underscored by syrupy John Tesh-like music) that shows the Craig-Bond and Vesper holding hands, skipping happily, and embracing in the rain. I was laughing at the film’s kitschy style and continued to laugh at icy French actress Eva Green, who fails miserably as the girl who tames Bond.4

[Image] This is Bond's one great love? Martin Campbell can't convince us of that anymore than he can make us believe that the Craig-Bond is willing to leave Her Majesty's Secret Service because he is disillusioned of his profession. The whole subplot is so vaguely touched upon (there is never any mention of what he had to endure in his recovery, or if he's had a profound realization in his life) that it's practically overlooked. Besides, as vague as it is, this subplot essentially contradicts the thesis of the film: this Craig-Bond is suppose to be a youthful, brash rookie Double-O agent, so why in hell is he suddenly acting like he's burned out from a long career in the service and longs to leave it all behind?5 It's such a major flaw in the story that the filmmakers could not resolve. The only tactic they were left with is to glide over this flaw quickly, never really giving any of the characters a chance to discuss the situation—not even the Craig-Bond or Vesper. Only Craig's unintentionally funny line, "Whatever is left of me—whatever I am—I'm yours," comes close to discussing the change in this Bond's life.6

The stupidity of the plot overloads in the final scenes when Vesper locks herself in an elevator that plunges into a flooded building in Venice. Again, I was just getting over the film’s Harlequin-style romance and, suddenly, the filmmakers try to outdo the ending in Fleming’s novel. It seems the filmmakers knew that the audience would be snickering so they threw in a collapsing building to make us forget the kitsch. The visual effects of the destruction look every bit as realistic as the disaster scenes in those Japanese Godzilla films, and Daniel Craig attempting to emote is one of the dumbest things you'll ever see, even if you’re accustomed to watching animatronic bears and tigers singing old songs of The Partridge Family.

Visually, Casino Royale is an ugly film with little or no sense of balance to its lensing or compositions. Outdoor scenes are shot with saturated colors, lending the film a chintzy quality instead of a top-of-the-line blockbuster; interior scenes suffer from a cramped, dark production design that never evokes the awe that we have come to expect from a Bond film. The world of 007 is in a hyper-reality—a compost of the everyday world and the world of luxury that we, along with Bond, will have an opportunity to glimpse for about two hours. So where is that grandeur in Casino Royale? We get the impression that the filmmakers didn't want lavish sets and exotic locations for this movie and, moreover, every attempt was made to distance themselves from the big sets of the Bond films of yore because they were somehow embarrassing mistakes. To blazes with that, I say. I'll take Blofeld's breathtaking mountain lair in On Her Majesty's Secret Service any day over the small, cheap, TV-drama look of Casino Royale.

Once again, David Arnold contributes a brassy pastiche of a John Barry score. The title song, played against credits that resemble cheap cartoon animation, is performed by the overrated Chris Cornell, a tuneless piece and one of the worst in the series. Its chorus, “Arm yourself / Because no one else here will save you,” evokes the image that the Craig-Bond had snapped and wanted to attack customers at the local hardware store with an Uzi. It makes any Paris Hilton CD a profound work of genius.

DVD Details

[Image] Video: The anamorphic, 2.40:1 widescreen video image for Casino Royale is bright and sharp, whether you care or not. I watched it on a 50" plasma display, and the full 1080p HD resolution truly conveyed every pixel in Craig's scaly mug.

Audio: The two-channel stereo soundtrack has excellent imaging, although it is much more aesthetically engaging to hear a deck of cards being shuffled in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Indeed, the multi-channel surround is a very active mix, with pristine detail during the fight scenes and explosions. The disc I reviewed also had a Spanish 5.1 mix, a French Surround, and a special subtitle track for Craig's mumble. I kid, of course. But there are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

The Extras: This two-disc release is a little skimpy on extras. It lacks a commentary track on the movie itself. On disc two, there are a couple of short features. Becoming Bond is a 25 minute piece on the casting of Craig, with some behind-the-scenes look at the film's production. Some of Barbara Broccoli's statements are unintentionally hilarious, especially when she tries to sell the movie as some kind of high art. The casting director, on the other hand, drops the bombshell, making a slip as she jokes that she never thought of Craig as Bond.

The other documentaries are James Bond: For Real and Bond Girls are Forever. Although I've been a longtime Bond fan, I'd frankly rather sit through Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reading The Distribution and Reporting of Local Property Tax Revenues in California. I did see the first part of Bond Girls are Forever, a feature that examines all the Bond girls and their subsequent careers, before I realized I had to pump air into my mountain bike's front tire. From what I saw, this documentary is amusing yet painful to watch because the actresses attempt to bash the series but are careful with their comments to avoid getting booted off the documentary.

Unmercifully, Disc 2 also contains a music video for Chris Cornell's title song, "You Know My Name." And, finally, to spare us from the nausea of seeing more scenes from Casino Royale, the Sony folks include some trailers for other Sony films—but none for this 007 film. It's a small gesture of kindness, but we appreciate it.

The Bottom Line

As bad movies go, this is one of the funniest, with a new bit of laughable stupidity unfolding every minute. Just the sheer notion of Judi Dench reprising her role as M is enough to generate laughter. She is the first leader of the British Secret Service to break the space-time continuum by reappearing in a Bond-Begins story after bossing around a mature established 007 in the last four Bond films. (Don’t ask me how the leader of MI6 can defy the laws of space-time; I’m just reporting what I saw). Even Martin Campbell and his cohorts were dumbfounded: “It doesn't make any sense in the timeline,” the director explains in an interview for SuperHeroHype.com. “We simply said that you got to suck that up, because you can't really change Judi Dench at this point, she's just too good. We did discuss it, because there's no logic to it, of course, but we just thought she's so perfect in the role” (“Casino Royale Director Martin Campbell”).

[Image] Meanwhile, the uncouth Craig-Bond fills the screen, and we remember the mission of the filmmakers: to update the Bond mythology; to make it palatable to the Beavis and Butt-head generation; to be lauded by young audiences wearing giant pants7 and the bill of their baseball caps pointing backward; to appeal to college frat boys guzzling Coronas and thinking that Snoop Dogg is a true poet laureate. Call me cynical, even misanthropic, but since 1962 when Dr. No was released and Terrence Young, Richard Maibaum, and Sean Connery introduced a new type of hero—dashing, enigmatic, ruthless but romantic—it's fascinating yet disturbing to see how the world, perhaps more vulgar and crass, but certainly lacking in critical thinking, can no longer remember the grandeur of that character—a world where the concept of "debonair" has declined and the hero of the masses is praised for becoming less of a gentleman. If there's any comfort, at least Casino Royale is a laughable film. Laughter, as the saying goes, is the best medicine. Thank you, Martin Campbell and Eon Productions, for making us laugh for 144 minutes.


1 For a detailed description of Fleming's Bond, refer to my in-depth analysis of Casino Royale.
2 In the Fleming books, Bond is essentially depicted as virile male specimen who could transform the lesbian Pussy Galore (in the novel Goldfinger) into a heterosexual.
3 When Craig was announced as the new 007 in October 2005, I conducted a Daniel Craig film festival, watching 15 movies that the actor has appeared in (“That's your own stupid fault,” I hear you saying again and you're absolutely correct). As a longtime Bond fan, I wanted to embrace the decision of the Bond makers. Hence, the film festival—an attempt to get acquainted with Craig and to discern how he might handle the Bond role. At the end of the film festival, I came to the conclusion that Craig is about as alluring as a concrete piling and certainly one of the worst living actors. An in-depth discussion of this film festival will be presented in a future essay.
4 Diana Rigg—now there's a real actress. In her heartbreaking portrayal of Teresa di Vincenzo, you believe she captivates Bond and can change him in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
5 In Fleming's Casino Royale, Bond is not the young fledgling agent that the filmmakers would have you believe. Casino Royale is simply the first novel in the series, and we meet an agent who is already burning out and no longer understands what he is fighting for. “‘When one's young,’” he tells his French ally, Rene Mathis, “‘it seems very easy to distinguish between right and wrong; but as one gets older it becomes more difficult.... The villains and heroes get all mixed up’” (134-135). For the film, the Bond makers simply mangled the novel in their vacuous, sloppy approach.
6 To be precise, in Daniel Craig’s barely discernible babble, it’s “Whu’ evah iz weft ov me—whu’ evah uh em—um yers,” but I translated for your convenience.
7 These pants are so enormous, you could place two teenagers in them and still have room for a lawnmower. Even a clown would refuse to wear them for the simple reason that they are too undignified.

List of Illustrations

"Casino Royale, Blu-ray Disc." Online Photograph. Amazon.com. 29 Nov. 2007
"Eva Green as Vesper Lynd." Online Photograph. JamesBond-fr.com. 29 Nov. 2007
"Craig as Putin." Online Photograph. Daily Mail. 22 Aug. 2007
"Vladimir Putin." Online Photograph. Daily Mail. 5 Dec. 2007
<http://www.rjgeib.com/blog/media/vladimir- putin.jpg>.
"Daniel Craig Running." Online Photograph. Arizonal Local News. 12 Dec. 2007
<http://www.azcentral.com/ent/movies/pics/1117bond2- autosized258.jpg>.
"Martin Campbell." Online Photograph. ComingSoon.net. 9 July 2007
"Daniel Craig and his Weathered Mug." Online Photograph. ImageShack. 18 Dec. 2007
"Eva Green and Daniel Craig." Online Photograph. Hello Magazine. 29 Dec. 2007
<http://www.hellomagazine.com/travel/2006/06/08/casinoroyaleset/imgs/venice- dop2b.jpg>.
"Blu-ray Disc." Online Photograph. Digital Home. 14 Oct. 2007
"The Uncouth Bond." Online Photograph. FilmIt. 17 Feb. 2007

Works Cited

Casino Royale. Dir. Martin Campbell. Perf. Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi
Dench. 2006. Blu-ray DVD. Sony Pictures, 2007.
"Casino Royale Director Martin Campbell." SuperHeroHype.com. 14 Nov. 2006. 20 Mar. 2007
Fleming, Ian. Casino Royale. 1953. New York: Berkley, 1986.
Giammarco, David. “Heir To The Bond Legacy.” Cinefantastique. Jan. 1998: 23-25.

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