Thursday, 7 December 2006

casino royale [dir martin campbell]

Bond is an institution. How do institutions grow old gracefully? Through re-invention? Or acceptance of senility? How old is Bond anyway?

If Casino Royale seems to be anything to go by, he's just got to the mid-life crisis, so there's more to come, but diminishing returns should be expected. The film opens with a recap - Bond makes his first kills and acquires 00 status. It suggests the Bond team, whoever they are, want to make a fresh start - new Bond, new broom. Mid-life crises can take on various forms. Bond has no need of more gadgets, so these are pared back. He's worried about being unfit, so the new Bond is buffed up, shows off his chest, gets his hands dirty. All of which is par for the course. Trouble really comes when Bond, the character within this movie, genuinely does have a mid-life crisis, falls in love with a woman, runs away on a boat with her, hands in his notice.

This development occurs in hour 7 of a nine hour epic, after Bond has re-affirmed his masculinity and proved he can both win and lose at cards. Bond's crisis is squeezed into the tail end of the movie, neccessitating some cramped and unlikely dialogue. Revealing something we knew all along: we don't go to a Bond movie in order to see a psychological drama. His relationship with Vespa is deeply unconvincing, not least because she looks like she's about 17, and Bond has never been the paternal type.

A loss of direction is common in mid-life crises, and it's not surprising Casino Royale doesn't seem to know where it's going, slipping from 'action-packed' into static card games. There's also a curious homo-erotic element, with Bond and his advesary, Le Chiffre, indulging in some sado-masochistic horseplay. The buff Craig slipping out of the ocean seems to be targeted towards the pink pound rather than the lad's pound.

The real problem with Casino Royale is that it fails to develop this intruiging villain. He's good at playing cards, but since when is card-playing a danger to the world as we know it? There's nothing at stake save Bond's ego, and Bond's ego should never be at stake. There's nothing wrong with Mads Mikkelson, it's just his character doesn't actually do very much. Without a malevolent alter-ego on a mission, Bond doesn't know what his mission is. Perhaps it's no surprise he wants to retire and grow pot-plants. By the end of the nine hours he's been running around the world getting nowhere, and it's to the film's mimetic credit that we know how he feels.

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