Bont. Jamesh Bont.

To the cine­mat­ori­um, yes­ter­day, the bet­ter to watch Daniel Craig’s Bond debut in Casino Royale. I have some thoughts on the mat­ter — nat­ur­ally — but, first, a few Bond fact­oids. Casino Royale was the name of the first Bond nov­el, penned by Ian Fleming back in 1953. I haven’t read that book, but rumour has it that the film is quite faith­ful in tone and style. Craig is the first under-forty Bond since George Lazenby (who starred in one of my favour­ite Bond out­ings, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Craig is also the first Bond to have his testicles thumped with a length of rope. To be sure, this is a story that chimes with the obser­va­tion of Alistair MacLean, who sug­ges­ted that Fleming’s nov­els were based on ‘sex, snob­bery and sad­ism’.

I don’t want to review the film expli­citly here, because this has been done else­where, yon­der and round­about. However, I’d like to artic­u­late the reas­ons for my grow­ing sad­ness as I watched.

What’s wrong with this picture?

There were some great moments and well-worked set pieces. The tensile strength of the upper lip was main­tained des­pite an excru­ci­at­ing on a rick­ety chair — and that was before the film star­ted.

Oh, behave, Ian. Behave.

An immortal hero

OK, so the audi­ence knows that — for the sound­est of fin­an­cial reas­ons — the hero can­not die. What does the storyteller of a thrill­er do in this cir­cum­stance? You’ve got to provide a proxy; some­thing must be at stake that the hero val­ues as much as, or more than, his life. In Casino Royale, we have the love interest Vesper Lynd, played by French act­ress Eva Green. I think that Daniel Craig — a ter­rif­ic act­or — man­ages to ‘sell’ the con­nec­tion between him­self and Vesper Lynd, but this doesn’t really bite until two-thirds through the film. By this point, we’ve sat through sev­er­al action set pieces where there is really no jeop­ardy what­so­ever. We have to be enter­tained by our anti­cip­a­tion of ‘how Bond will get out of this one’. That’s not really suf­fi­cient.

Kinematics

That’s right. With a K. Consider the movies The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy, and I would wager that you’ll not see two finer films for sheer hoop­lah, mojo and welly. What’s more, they have a depth that, sadly, Casino Royale can only sniff at. But in terms of kin­emat­ics: A good dir­ect­or will get com­pet­ent people to arrange the stunts and their effect will be equally competent…but there will be con­stant niggles like trucks skid­ding in an unnat­ur­al way, explo­sions that should kill people but don’t, and, cru­cially: the action set pieces only devel­op the story at their com­ple­tion, not dur­ing the piece itself. Into this cat­egory falls Martin Campbell (cf. his Goldeneye, which suf­fers from the same prob­lem; mind you, Campbell dir­ec­ted the pretty good The Mask of Zorro). A great dir­ect­or gets the kin­et­ics right; keeps it real. Into this cat­egory falls Spielberg (pick any Indiana Jones set-piece), James Cameron (Terminator fran­chise, ALIENS), and Paul Greengrass (dir­ect­or of The Bourne Supremacy; just watch the final car chase and check your pants after­wards).

Gods from various machines

I’m sorry, but even Bond-James-Bond lacks the psych­ic power to pre­dict the future. Why, then, does he have gad­gets that are so spe­cif­ic they can only be use­ful in improb­able situ­ations — which duly come to pass? In anoth­er film, this would be labelled slop­pi­ness. In a Bond film, it’s laughed off; but I think a cer­tain uneas­i­ness under­lies that laughter. Let’s show the scriptwriters the V: verisimil­it­ude. And, by the way, a defib­ril­lat­or in a glove box? What-now?

Verisimilitude

Not to bang the Bourne drum too often, but why is a spy thrill­er like The Bourne Supremacy head and shoulders above Casino Royale? One of the key reas­ons lies in verisimil­it­ude: keep­ing it real, man. Keep it real. Bourne works with­in a real­ity very close to ours — when he goes on a car chase, he needs to look at a map; his advant­age in com­pet­it­ive situ­ations comes from clev­erness and pre­par­a­tion and trade­craft. Bond works in a rari­fied real­ity: when he goes on a car chase, he knows exactly where he’s going; he’s got the best kit; he’s always luck­i­er than his oppon­ent. The pre-title (or was it post title?) sequence when Bond chases the parkour guy over a con­struc­tion site filled me with dread. Those feats were super­hu­man. Bond has not been rendered ‘gritty’ and ‘real­ist­ic’ in this movie; he’s the same com­ic book hero he always was. Why can’t be occa­sion­ally screw up, like Bourne? OK, so Bond does not viol­ate the verisimil­it­ude of the Bond uni­verse, but in that uni­verse Bond is God, and is there any­thing more bor­ing than see­ing a flaw­less hero strut his stuff in very tight bathing trunks? I know; depends on the trunks.

Structure

The end­ing was quite abrupt, and did not sail to the heights of myth inten­ded by the cre­at­ors. As I heard that final line (which I won’t repeat here), I thought, Wow, that must have looked fant­ast­ic in the script. But, over­all, it didn’t work. The end­ing lacked clos­ure and its abrupt­ness had not been fore­shad­owed well.

Final word

I liked this film. I had a good time. Some of the stunts were fun and laughed like a don­key at the testic­u­lar tor­ture seen (trust me, it is indeed funny). Any giv­en scene was reas­on­ably well con­struc­ted, and Daniel Craig’s per­form­ance was superb. But, see­ing this film, I have the feel­ing that we’re in the last few films of the fran­chise. I just don’t think you can main­tain a fran­chise on pyro­tech­nics and catch­phrases alone. You need to tell a com­pel­ling story. This ain’t it.

Postscript

Oh, can we please grow up and stop using dis­fig­ure­ment as a short­hand for vil­lainy? ‘Crikey, that guy has got a massive scar run­ning through his eye! Must have ‘evil’ run­nin’ through him like a stick of rock!’ Ugly/disfigured = bad. Handsome = good. Jaysus. (Let’s not for­get that Fleming described Bond as hav­ing a con­spicu­ous facial scar.)

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

8 thoughts on “Bont. Jamesh Bont.”

  1. Interesting review! And you got it up faster than me, you Sod. I come from a slightly dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tion than you (I devoured the ori­gin­al books) so Casino Royale was always going to be a tough nut to crack, but I think they did a good job of it. There’s a sol­id story in the book and they car­ried over the best bits.

    You men­tioned the ste­reo­typ­ic­al ‘scarred’ vil­lain… The ste­reo­type in this film that annoyed me was Le Chiffre’s girl­friend. She was obvi­ously meant to be Eastern European and it appears in mod­ern movies, all bad guys are English, all French men are gay and all Eastern European women are skank­ily dressed and have roots and fake tans. Since I know many Eastern European women (and I believe you know one par­ticu­ally well) you’d prob­ably agree that they’re not the sort who run about in leath­er fet­ish gear slip­ping digital­is into people’s mar­tinis and maybe the scriptwriters in hol­ly­wood should pick on anoth­er ste­reo­type for a while!

  2. depends on the trunks.”

    Um, no, it depends on the hero 🙂

    Good review. I’ve only seen the trail­ers, but they gave me exactly the same impres­sion.

  3. Thanks for your com­ment, Carla. You may still like the film, of course! Plenty of thrills and spills…

  4. Fantastic review, Ian. I just love your reviews! And I am a great admirer of the Bourne films too.

    Haven’t seen the film, and I’m not par­tic­u­larly a Bond fan, but I think the cast­ing is inter­est­ing.

    roger.

  5. Thanks, Roger. I think the film is worth a go; it’s worth a fiver of anyone’s money. BTW, I’m not sure how old your kids are, but I’d say that some ele­ments in this film are really ‘15’ — a point I was going to make in the review but for­got.

  6. I am not a par­tic­u­lar fan of Bond films in gen­er­al, so I ask this ques­tion from lim­ited exper­i­ence: the review seemed to find a prob­lem that is fun­da­ment­al to how Bond films are made, for example, verisimil­it­ude. Has there ever been a real­ism to Bond films? I won­der wheth­er it’s not Casino Royale that was flawed in this man­ner, but the entire Bond series?

  7. Hi MJ — Good ques­tion. In gen­er­al, I’d say that yes, this is a prob­lem with an entire series. I think it didn’t both­er me as a teenager/young man, but now I want a little more from films, and I’m slightly more attuned to weak­nesses in craft.

    That said, you can take look at From Russia with Love and see a fairly vul­ner­able Bond in a real­ist­ic set­ting. When he imper­illed on the train by the SMERSH thug played by Robert Graves, there is a very real sense that he had been out man­oeuvred. I can’t ima­gine Daniel Craig’s Bond being foxed in the same way; he seems in total com­mand of the situ­ation at all times. For Your Eyes Only is anoth­er reas­on­ably real­ist­ic Bond. It’s not just the lack of gad­gets, it’s the sense of real story (Bond lays flowers on the grave of his wife; he devel­ops a friend­ship with The Dove, and so on).

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