Casino Royale was definitely the best Bond film since GoldenEye – GoldenEye is probably still my favourite, but it’s hard to do a direct comparison of the two, as they are completely different types of film. Daniel Craig made a great Bond, Judi Dench just gets better and better as M, and I liked Eva Green as Vesper and Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre. Overall I though it had the right balance between action, characterisation and snappy dialogue. I found the opening credits song a bit bland, but not unpleasant, and I liked the visuals that went with it. I also liked the way there were just hints of the Bond theme music throughout the film – generally when standard Bond things are being established (eg the dinner jacket) – but that it didn’t play in full until the very end. There were a number of scenes I really, really enjoyed: in particular, the parkour-inspired chase sequence in Madagascar, which was brilliant, and the exchange between Bond and Vesper on the train, which was very reminiscent of Bogart-Bacall scenes. The opening, black-and-white scene was also very strong, but had a bit less impact because I was already familiar with it from the trailer. And the poker scenes worked well – as a poker ignoramus, I still found that there was enough context provided that I wasn’t actually confused by what was going on. In principle, I would have preferred them to stick with baccarat, as in the book, but I guess it made commercial sense to change to a game more people are familiar with.
If I have an active complaint with it, it is that, at 144 minutes, it was really too long. I thought the action sequences in the airport and in Venice could definitely have been cut back a bit. Possibly some of the romance scenes near the end could also have been trimmed, though that might have affected the balance a bit much.
In preparation for the film, I re-read the book a little while ago. I had also read it a couple of years back, for a uni course, but before that it had been years since I’d read it, or any other of the Bond books. Possibly because of the films, it’s very easy to be dismissive of Fleming as a writer, but on re-reading Casino Royale I do find that there is a richness to it that I had forgotten. It’s extremely visceral. Bond had a sensuous enjoyment of food that never appears in the films. Also, one of the scenes that I did have a strong recollection of before this re-read was the explosion (which didn’t make it to the film) because you really get the impact it has on Bond’s senses – the smell, the raining flesh, all the things you don’t get when you see an explosion in a movie.
A number of people have said that Daniel Craig is much more like Ian Fleming’s Bond than his predecessors were. I don’t actually think this is true – or, at any rate, it’s not true of the Casino Royale Bond. Daniel Craig was something of a blue-collar thug, with a very thin veneer of sophistication. I thought this worked very well for the film, but it was no closer to the Bond of the book than any of the other interpretations. I know Pierce Brosnan, and maybe also Timothy Dalton (whose Bond might have come close to Fleming’s, if he’d ever been given a decent film) were interested in doing a Casino Royale. With the script as it was written, I don’t think either of them would have done as good a job as Daniel Craig. However, with certain shifts in tone to suit their different styles, I think either one could have put in a good performance that would have been at least as true to the book – in different ways – as this one was. Actually, probably any of the Bond actors could have. The plot of the book is so slight that it could have been adjusted in any number of directions, while still remaining true to the emotional centre of the original work. Nevertheless, I thought Craig was brilliant, and I just hope he isn’t let down by future scriptwriters/directors (as Brosnan was after GoldenEye, and Dalton was for both his films).
One of the things I read in the lead-up (which made me think it could be really good) was that they had promised to keep the torture scene and the last line of the book. As it turned out, I found the torture scene in the film far less confronting than it was in the book. This is probably a good thing, but it did leave me feeling a bit dissatisfied.
I also felt that they’d copped out somewhat over the ending. Warning: spoilers follow. The book finishes with the line “The bitch is dead now”, and I find it a very powerful, if bleak, ending. As promised, they did have this line in the film, and I thought he delivered it with the right level of bitterness, but it was immediately softened by what M says, which brings back some of the emotion, and then by the triumphant closing scene. The ending they gave it is very cinematic, and I can certainly see that they wanted the audience to go out on a positive note, rather than feeling depressed. It wasn’t even inconsistent with the book (where, after reading Vesper’s suicide note, Bond decides that “Here was a target for him, right at hand”). And the last image of him standing there with the gun, and finally uttering the immortal line “The name’s Bond, James Bond” which launches the theme music and the closing credits, was great. I certainly can’t say I didn’t like it – I thought it was wonderful. But … I do kind of regret losing the downbeat ending from the book.