08 Jan 2007

Casino Royale, From the Class of 1970 List

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Comments on Casino Royale, from the discussion on my Class list.


Sean Connery was the wrong physical type, too large, too hirsute, and the wrong-eye color, but was such an agreeable actor to watch working that no one much minded
the transformation of Bond into a somewhat hulking Glaswegian Geordie.

The Bond films long ago lost any real relationship to the original character or the books, becoming instead a strange, spectacularly vulgar, and American (in the worst sense) thing all their own: extended exercises in elaborate special effects, supplying PG-level sex and violence accompanied by comforting repetitions (with new elaborations and surprises) of the same cliches.

I thought Daniel Craig was less two-dimensional than any previous Bond, but he is even further removed from the original character than even the braw Scots Sean Connery or the Las Vegas lounge lizard Roger Moore. Bond was, after all, a thoroughgoing U Englishman, an orphan from an artistic sort of background perhaps, with languages and Continental education, but still –underneath it all– a sound public school chap (even if he was sent down, a one biographer contends), a gentleman, and (as Marlow would say) “one of us.”

Daniel Craig is no gentleman at all, only a half-civilized, arriviste thug, straight out of London gangland, if not Borstal itself. His motivation to rise in the ranks of MI6 to the point of becoming that organization’s most conspicuous and short-lived species of cannon fodder seems perfectly mysterious.

I thought it very strange indeed to have the long-abandoned skeleton of the first Ian Fleming novel disinterred, and used with the most insolent anachronism imaginable, yet still more accurately used as the movie’s framework than any of the original novels have been used in forty years. How Ian Fleming would have howled, if he were alive, to see Baccarat replaced by Texas Hold ‘Em as the locus of Bond’s battle of wits and nerve with Le Chiffre. The destruction of Venice would surely have proved comforting though.

Le Chiffre was commendably cast.

Watching the film, I could not help reflect that there must be very, very few, some absolutely tiny number of people in the world, who are capable of designing and choreographing those amazing and elaborate chase and fight sequences. They certainly deserve their millions.

But it was depressing to see, fifty years on, just how much the world has grown stupider, shorter of attention span, less critical, and more vulgar. The hero of the mass audience is less the gentleman than ever, and James Bond is now played as what Britons would call a yobbo. I sometimes think that if we could live another century, we would see mankind reduced still further in grandeur and dignity, perhaps to some sort of quadruped.


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