“QUANTUM OF SOLACE” (2008) Review

“QUANTUM OF SOLACE” (2008) Review

I am going to be perfectly frank. When I first saw the 2008 James Bond movie, “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, I  had hesitated to write a review.  Why? Because it had left me in a daze. Four days after I saw the movie I continued to experience slight feelings of confusion about it.  It was not until my second viewing of the film that I finally developed solid opinions of the film.

”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was a direct sequel of the 21st film in the Bond franchise, ”CASINO ROYALE”. The previous movie ended with James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) discovery that the woman he loved – an accountant for the British government named Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) – had betrayed him during his dealings with a banker for terrorist named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Before she committed suicide during his fight against some thugs hired by the organization behind Le Chiffre in Venice, Vesper left Bond a name and telephone number that linked to a Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), a business middleman with connections to an organization that finances terrorism. By the end of”CASINO ROYALE”, Bond managed to capture Mr. White with a well placed shot to the latter’s kneecap. ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” picked up with Bond being chased by Mr. White’s associates on a road to Sienna, Italy. After eluding the thugs in a deadly road chase, Bond delivered a wounded Mr. White to a MI-6 safe house in the Italian city.

Due to Mr. White’s capture and unsuccessful interrogation, Bond and ‘M’ (Judi Dench) learned that the organization behind the prisoner – Quantum – has many spies planted throughout top-level government agencies around the world. One of those spies turned out to be ‘M’’s bodyguard, who allowed Mr. White to escape via an attack on ‘M’. Bond managed to track down and kill the traitorous Mitchell before he could question the man. However, a few banknotes found in the latter’s pockets allowed MI-6 to track down one of Mitchell’s contacts – a man named Slate in Haiti. This encounter with Slate led Bond to a revenge-bent Bolivian Secret Service agent named Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) and her connections to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) and Quantum. The rest of the movie focused upon Bond resorting to almost any means possible to learn more about Quantum, foil their plans to control the water supply in Bolivia, and help Camille deal with her desire for revenge against General Medrano (Joaquin Cosío), a Bolivian general responsible for her family’s death and who has a business/political arrangement with Greene and Quantum.

I have to admit that I found ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”to be a well written film. I believe the screenwriters did a first-rate job in creating a sequel to ”CASINO ROYALE”. Not only did they bring back characters like Mr. White, Rene Mathis and Felix Leiter from the last film, the script even continued the issue of Bond’s relationship with Vesper Lynd and his reaction to her death. Several scenes touched upon this continuation:

*Mr. White’s mention of Vesper’s death in Venice
*’M’ and Bond’s discussion at MI-6 Headquarters of Vesper’s French-Algerian boyfriend
*Rene Mathis and Bond’s discussion of Vesper during their flight to Bolivia
*Mathis’ insistence that Bond forgive Vesper for her betrayal and himself for being fooled before the former’s death
*Bond’s reaction to Camille’s revelation about her own desire for vengeance against General Medrano
*Bond’s encounter with Yusef, Vesper’s French-Algerian boyfriend and member of Quantum, who was hired to compromise her, at the end of the film
*Shots of Vesper and Yusef in a photograph
*A shot of Le Chiffre on a computer screen.

When I had first learned of rumors that Quantum, the organization behind Le Chiffre, Mr. White and Dominic Greene, would be on the same level as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. from the 1960s films, I nearly had a negative reaction to the idea. The last thing I wanted was for EON Productions to attempt to turn back the clock and rehash old storylines. Fortunately, Quantum seemed more representative of the present-day practice of socio-economy by multinational corporations than a criminal organization that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. represented. Yet, like many of these corporations, Quantum does not seem above using violence to achieve some of their means. One of my favorite scenes about Quantum featured Bond’s discovery of certain members of the organization holding a clandestine meeting during an opera in Bregenz, Austria. Another favorite featured a meeting about Bond’s actions between ‘M’ and the Foreign Minister (Tim Pigott-Smith), in which the Minister reminded ‘M’ that they live in times in which governments for countries like the U.S. and Great Britain have a need to cooperate with organizations like Quantum for declining natural resources.

Like ”CASINO ROYALE”, this latest Bond film is blessed with a first-rate cast. Cast members like Judi Dench, Jesper Christiansen, Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini repeated their excellent performances. Not only did Dench get a chance to repeat her electrifying chemistry with leading man Daniel Craig, she and Pigott-Smith gave excellent performances in the scene featuring the tense meeting between ‘M’ and the Foreign Secretary. Jesper Christiansen returned in his role as the mysterious Mr. White. Only in this film, he is not as reserved as he had been in “CASINO ROYALE”. Still, I could tell that Christiansen seemed to be enjoying himself. The character of Mr. White managed to escape MI-6’s clutches after Mitchell’s attack upon ‘M’ and a few other agents. How he managed to achieve this with a busted kneecap is beyond my comprehension.

Not only was I pleased to see Jeffrey Wright reprise his role as Felix Leiter, I was especially pleased that Wright was given a chance to expand on his work from the previous movie. In ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, Leiter and a fellow CIA agent named Gregg Beam (David Harbour) are offering U.S. support to Quantum’s plans to help General Medrano stage a coup in Bolivia for oil leases. This situation allowed Wright to masterfully display Felix’s torn loyalties to what he seemed to consider as a distasteful duty and his newly established friendship with Bond. And it was great to see Giannini return as the wise and always witty Rene Mathis. After his arrest in ”CASINO ROYALE”, MI-6 realized they had been wrong and compensated him with a villa on a small island near Italy. Bond and Mathis make their peace before the former convinces the latter to help him deal with Greene and General Medrano. In one of the movie’s best scenes, Giannini and Craig gave beautiful performances in a scene featuring a heart-to-heart discussion between Mathis and Bond about Vesper aboard a Virgin Airline flight to Bolivia. Giannini had never been better.

Most of the supporting characters in ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” turned out to be a mixed bag for me. I was impressed by Joaquin Cosio’s portrayal of the greedy and ruthless General Medrano, the Bolivian strongman who had murdered Camille’s family and wants Quantum and the CIA’s help to regain power in the country. Instead of indulging in the usual clichés of the archtypical Latin American dictator, Cosio portrayed Medrano with more restraint and some intelligence. David Harbour was effective as the smug CIA agent, Gregg Beam, who viewed Bond’s activities as nothing more than a threat to his agency’s plans to acquire Bolivian oil leases. On the other hand, I was not impressed by Anatole Taubman’s role as Elvis, Dominic Greene’s cousin and henchman. I had no problem with Taubman’s performance. The problem seemed to be that . . . his presence in the movie was useless. It added nothing to the story. I could almost say the same about Gemma Arterton’s role as MI-6 agent, Strawberry Fields. In fact, I could honestly say that I wish she had never been included in the story in the first place. Her presence in the film was a waste of time. One, she was an unpleasant reminder – at least to me – of those past Bond girls with the ridiculous names and who did nothing more than serve as Bond’s bed warmers. This is exactly how Arterton’s character served the movie. Even worse, the discovery of her body covered in oil brought about an unpleasant reminder of the 1964 movie, ”GOLDFINGER”. It was bad enough that the movie’s screenwriters felt they had to pay homage to a past Bond film. But that the movie in question turned out to be one that I more or less despise was a bit too much for me.

Fortunately, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” also featured an impressive Olga Kurychenko as the Bond leading lady, Camille Montes. The Ukrainian-born actress had to adopt a South American accent for the role as the feisty Russian-Bolivian woman who joined her country’s secret service to avenge the deaths of her family by killing General Medrano. I had first saw Kurychenko in ”HITMAN” with Timothy Olyphant. Although I found the movie rather mediocre, I was more than impressed by her acting skills and her energy, which she effectively infused in her portrayal of Camille. Camille must be the only Bond leading female who has not shared a love scene with the MI-6 agent. Mind you, Camille is not exactly the most impressive Bond girl I have come across. Her personality struck me as a little too impatient and not very skilled as a killer. But Kurychenko did an effective job of conveying this part of Camille’s nature. Ironically, this served the movie rather well considering that both characters were too obsessed in their goals to even consider romance with each other.

The prevailing view of Mathieu Amalric’s role as Dominic Greene, the film’s main villain, seemed to be divided amongst Bond fans. Some view the character as weak and others seemed very impressed. Count me amongst the latter. I had first been impressed by Amalric’s performance in the Steven Spielberg film, ”MUNICH” (in which Daniel Craig also co-starred). My positive view on the actor’s talent continued in ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. I realize that many Bond fans seemed to be more impressed by over-the-top villains. My tastes in villainy seemed to swerve in the opposite direction and I felt more than pleased that Amalric’s Greene strongly reminded me of more subtle villains like Georgi Koskov, Le Chiffre and Ari Kristatos. Amalric gave a skillful performance of a complex man whose witty persona hid a ruthless and cold-blooded nature.

Finally, we come to the man of the hour – namely Daniel Craig in his second outing as MI-6 agent James Bond. His performance in ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was just as superb and breathtaking as his debut performance. I have spent several days trying to find something wrong with Craig’s acting skills in this film. Honestly. So far, I have yet to find fault with his work. Craig effectively managed to continue Bond’s story by conveying the agent’s reactions to the events of ”CASINO ROYALE”. Burned by Vesper’s betrayal, Bond has become an angry man who is also grieving over the death of a woman he had loved very much. Although he tries to keep his anger in check and simply do his job in investigating and exposing Quantum, there are times when his emotions threatened to spiral out of control. And Craig did a superb job in projecting this stage in Bond’s emotional state. Once again, the actor gave a performance that certainly deserved recognition by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And I am quite certain that for the second time, he will be ignored by them.

As I had stated earlier, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” had a good, solid story that could have effectively served as a follow-up to ”CASINO ROYALE” thanks to screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis and uncredited writer Joshua Zetumer (uncredited). Remember when I had stated that the movie had left me in a daze? The following is the reason why. Despite the solid screenplay scripted by the four writers, director Marc Forster nearly ruined the story’s effectiveness with what I can only describe as a rush job with the help of editors Matt Chesse and Rick Pearson. There seemed to be a lot going in the movie’s plot. But Forster failed to unfold that story with a slower pace that would have served the movie in a more effective manner. Instead, the director filled the movie’s first half with a countless array of action sequences that almost left me as dizzy as the last two movies from the ”BOURNE”franchise. It almost seemed as if Forster had channeled Paul Greengrass’ worst directorial traits. This was especially true in the movie’s first two sequences – a mind altering car chase from Mr. White’s villa to Sienna and Bond’s pursuit of the traitorous MI-6 agent Mitchell through the streets of Sienna, Italy. By the time the movie shifted to Bond’s appearance at Mathis’ Italian villa, I was finally able to catch a breath and enjoy the movie without any accompanying dizzy spells. Another victim of Forster’s fast pacing was the story itself. The plot had nearly fallen victim to Forster’s attempt to be stylish and unique with his fast pace and editing.

Thankfully, not all seemed lost for the film’s action sequences. There were three of them that I found impressive. I enjoyed Bond’s deadly fight with Slate inside the latter’s hotel room in Haiti. I also enjoyed the finale sequence in which Bond dueled against Dominic Greene, while Camille struggled in her attempt to kill General Medrano. But the most effective action sequence – at least for me – turned out to be the aerial dogfight between Bond in a Douglas DC-3 propeller plane and Quantum pilots in both an Aermacchi SF-260 fighter and a Bell UH-1 helicopter. As far as I am concerned, Chesse and Pearson did their best work in this scene. And they were ably assisted by Roberto Schaefer’s excellent photography.

James Bond traveled to many locations in this film – Sienna, Italy; Haiti; Bregenz, Austria; back to Italy and Bolivia. Despite this dizzying array of locations, I must admit that I found most of them rather uninspiring aside from Haiti (filmed in Panama) and the Italian location that served as the backdrop for Mathis’ villa. ”CASINO ROYALE” had surprised the world with a very memorable gun barrel sequence, following its pre-title sequence. ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” did the same with a gun barrel sequence near the end of the film. Unfortunately, the latter sequence was not only very ineffective, but rushed . . . just like the movie’s pacing. One major controversy had arisen from the film. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson had decided to bypass Amy Winehouse as the performer for the film’s theme song and selected Jack White and Alicia Keys. White provided the song, ”Another Way to Die”, and Keys the vocals. Granted, the song is not that memorable to me. It was tolerable, but not memorable. And it is certainly not the worst Bond song I have ever heard. The song, ”Goldeneye”, still holds that honor in my eyes. And quite frankly, I preferred listening to ”Another Way to Die” over watching the horrendous main title designs created by a company called MK12. From what I understand, Marc Forster had been the one who wanted the company hired for the job, instead of Daniel Kleinman. That man has a lot to answer for.

In the end, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was a memorable follow up to Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond, ”CASINO ROYALE” Was it just as good or better than the 2006 film? No. If EON Productions had hired a director more suited for action, remove characters like Strawberry Fields and Elvis from the cast and slowed down the movie’s pace, it could have been just as good. Instead, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” turned out to be a movie that I would rank as ”Very Good”, instead of ”Excellent”.

“CASINO ROYALE” (2006) Review

“CASINO ROYALE” (2006) Review

Before watching my DVD copy of 2006’s ”CASINO ROYALE” for the umpteenth time, I had assumed that my initial enthusiasm toward the 21st James Bond thriller would dim with time. After all, I had been viewing my copies of the previous 20 Bond films over the past five months. I felt certain that I would have enough of the fictional British Secret Service agent. Needless to say, my assumptions proved to be wrong. I managed to enjoy ”CASINO ROYALE” more than ever. It has become firmly entrenched as my second favorite Bond movie of all time, following 1969’s ”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”

Performances

From the black-and-white opening shot of MI-6 Section Chief Dryden arriving at his office in Prague to a snappily dressed Bond standing menacingly over his wounded prey, ”CASINO ROYALE” rose the Bond franchise to a new level that I hope would remain for years to come. Barbara Broccoli had certainly known what she was doing when she suggested that EON Productions cast British independent actor, Daniel Craig, as the new James Bond. I believe that his gritty performance contributed greatly to the movie’s success and a change in the franchise’s style. From the beginning, Craig proved that he could portray James Bond just as ruthless as any other 00 agent, despite his new promotion. This sixth Bond also seemed to possess a more complex personality than his predecessors – an emotional and angry man who hides his feelings and ego behind a cold façade.

An egotistical James Bond is nothing new to the franchise. Each actor has managed to convey his own take on Bond’s fragile ego. In Craig’s case, his Bond is a man who lost his parents at a young age – eleven to be exact. Because of this tragedy, he was raised by his paternal aunt and became the protégé of a wealthy aristocrat who introduced him to a more exclusive lifestyle. This included four years at Oxford where he had to endure the slight snubs of fellow students from a higher class. Even Vesper Lynd, the Treasury agent with whom he would eventually fall in love, not only managed to guess this aspect of Bond’s background, she also detected that the manner in which he wore his suit hinted that deep down, he harbored contempt . . . and possibly resentment of his aristocratic classmates. This anger and resentment toward the more privileged seemed very apparent in a scene in which a German guest at the Bahamian resort he was staying had mistaken him for a valet. Although Bond took the opportunity to use this case of mistaken identity to create a distraction in order to break into the hotel’s security office, the manner in which he crashed the German’s Land Rover and tossed the keys aside told me that perhaps he felt some kind of resentment toward the man’s arrogant assumption about him. And yet . . . Craig managed to convey this mixture of professional opportunism and resentment in a very subtle manner.

Subtlety seemed to be the hallmark of Craig’s performance. For a man who returned a gritty and emotional element to the James Bond character, he did so in a manner that seemed to hint very little effort. An excellent example would be a scene in Venice in which Bond discovers for the first time that Vesper may have betrayed him. The scene began with Bond looking out at the Venetian scene from his hotel balcony, wearing a rather happy and satisfied expression. Within a space of a minute or two his happy expression transformed into confusion upon receiving a telephone call from M . . . and eventually, anger and a sense of betrayal after M had informed him that Vesper had failed to deposit the Casino Royale winnings into the Treasury’s account. All of this within a space of one minute or less. I felt so impressed by this brief performance that I had to rewind the scene just to watch it again.

Another aspect of Bond’s character that Craig had conveyed so well, was this belief that he could rise above his messy human emotions and any kind of romantic attachments to be the ”blunt instrument” that he believed M required of him. In the end, the enigmatic Vesper Lynd proved him wrong. Being the consummate actor, Craig had no problems capturing the wide range of emotions experienced by Bond during the entire story – whether those emotions dealt with his work, and his relationships and interactions with Vesper, M and other characters. To this day, I am still annoyed that the Academy Awards members were too snobbish to nominate Craig as Best Actor for his performance in this movie. So what if James Bond was nothing more than a pop culture character? If Al Pacino could receive a nomination for portraying a comic book character (Big Boy Caprice) in the 1990 film ”DICK TRACY”, I see no reason why Craig could have received a nomination for what I feel was the best performance by any actor who has ever portrayed James Bond.

From what I have read in old press releases, it took EON Productions quite a while to find the right leading actress to portray Treasury agent, Vesper Lynd. In fact, the French/Swedish actress, Eva Green, did not join the cast until after the film’s production had began. The wait seemed worth the effort. Green seemed to have perfectly embodied the sharp-tongued, reserved, and very enigmatic Vesper Lynd. Thanks to her performance, it was easy to see how someone like Vesper managed to have such an impact upon Bond’s life . . . and his heart. Like many other Bond fans, I had always viewed Diana Rigg of ”OHMSS” as the ultimate Bond leading lady. Not anymore. After viewing Green’s performance in”CASINO ROYALE”, I just might reconsider this opinion. Tracy Di Vicenzo struck me as a woman who had spent a privileged, yet lonely existence, capped by an unhappy marriage that ended in tragedy. Vesper, on the other hand, struck me as slightly more complex. Like Bond, she must have spent many years as an orphan with a chip on her shoulder.

Whereas Bond’s resentment seemed to have originated from his social origins, Vesper’s resentment came from her intelligence being disregarded, due to her gender. Although more reserved than the British agent, Bond may have guessed correctly that she had to struggle to overcome the negative opinions of others, while resenting them at the same time. And like Bond, she took great pains to project a nonchalant façade. When Vesper finally stopped fighting her feelings regarding Bond, Green had the double task of portraying a lovelorn woman harboring a dark secret from the man she loved. Not only did Green managed to achieve this goal, she captured the many nuances of what I believe has turned out to be the most complex Bond female character in the franchise’s history.

Portrayed by Danish actor Mads Mikelsen, the villain Le Chiffre might not be as ”unique” as many Bond fans perceive him to be. Le Chiffre was not the first Bond villain to be portrayed as a subtle individual. He was not the first villain whose objective did not include either world domination or worldwide extortion of the super powers. He was not the first villain to answer to a higher authority. Nor was he the first villain to be killed by someone other than Bond. So what made Le Chiffre unique? The blood that came from his left eye’s tear duct? His penchant for poker and mathematics? Or the fact that he seemed to share Bond’s own ruthlessness, impatience and arrogance? Or was it simply Mikelsen’s superb performance that allowed Le Chiffre to be villainous and yet, very human?

In the end, I realized that what Mikelsen’s Le Chiffre unique to me was his very human persona. The Danish actor had portrayed Le Chiffre with an icy exterior that made him believable as a talented poker player. But he also expressed human traits such as boldness and arrogance – traits that eventually got the best of him. In fact, those very traits had led to a major terrorist scheme funded by his clients’ money. The scheme’s failure – thanks to Bond – eventually landed Le Chiffre in hot with his clients . . . and his employers.

Not only did ”CASINO ROYALE” seemed blessed by its three very talented leads, it had the good fortune to possess a first-class supporting cast. Leading the pack was Academy Award winner, Dame Judi Dench as “M”, Bond’s MI-6 superior. It seemed rather odd for the producers to allow Dame Judi to continue the role of “M”, considering that Craig’s tenure is supposed to be a trip back to Bond’s early years as a “00” agent. The producers felt the same, but they simply did not have the heart to find someone to replace the dynamic dame. Quite frankly, I am glad they kept her. During the Brosnan Era, Dench’s “M” had been the ”Evil Queen of Numbers”, a former government accountant/intelligence analyst bent upon proving to Whitehall and other colleagues that she possessed the “balls” to lead MI-6. In ”CASINO ROYALE”, Dench’s “M” proved to be a different kettle of fish. With Daniel Craig as Bond, Dench became an experienced spymaster forced to guide the newly promoted Bond into becoming the great “00” agent she obviously feel he has the potential to be. Instead of the cool and analytical boss she had been with Brosnan, Dench’s M seemed slightly warmer and more maternal toward the agent. And for the first time, I found myself actually liking Dench as the head of MI-6.

Jeffrey Wright became the seventh actor to portray CIA agent Felix Leiter in the series of Bond movies produced by EON Productions. Like Jack Lord in ”DR. NO” (1962) and David Hedison in ”LIVE AND LET DIE” (1973) and ”LICENSE TO KILL” (1989), Wright’s Leiter is portrayed as a fellow intelligence colleague, instead of a slightly less intelligent lackey providing backup and information for Bond. Actually, Wright seemed just as cool as Lord . . . and as witty as Hedison. In”CASINO ROYALE”, Leiter is another player who takes part in Le Chiffre’s poker tournament in Montenegro. Although not as accomplished as Bond or Le Chiffre at poker, Leiter managed to remain in the tournament until the second night. And he also prevented Bond from committing a major error and provided much needed cash to defeat Le Chiffre. I especially enjoyed his little comment regarding Le Chiffre’s impatience toward those players ordering Bond’s favorite Vodka Martini. It seemed a shame that Wright was only featured in the film’s Montenegro sequences. But when I think about it, I could not see how Leiter’s presence would be needed in the rest of the story.

What can anyone say about Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini? I must be honest. I had not been much of a fan of his before”CASINO ROYALE”. In fact, I had only seen him in three productions – the 1985 miniseries ”SINS” (starring Joan Collins and Bond alumni Timothy Dalton) and the 1995 Keanu Reeves movie, ”A WALK IN THE CLOUDS” and the 2004 Denzel Washington movie, ”MAN ON FIRE”. I found his acting slightly over-the-top in the first two movies and barely noticed him in the third. But in ”CASINO ROYALE”, it was not hard to miss him. Not at all. And I am being very complimentary. Giannini portrayed MI-6 agent, Rene Mathis as a charming, witty, intelligent and very clever man. Most importantly, he seemed to have a sly sense of humor that I found absolutely delicious. I loved the sly way in which he had flirted with Vesper. And I loved his probing of Bond’s feelings for the accountant and the way he seemed to enjoy making trouble for Le Chiffre’s men. I may not have been a fan of Giannini in the past, but I am now.

The more I think about ”CASINO ROYALE”, the more I am amazed over the talented cast that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson managed to gather. For example, the movie has Simon Abkarian and Caterina Murino portrayed the unhappily married couple – terrorist middleman Alex Dimitrios and his wife Solange. Despite their brief screen time, both Abkarian and Murino managed to convincingly portray a wealthy couple whose marriage had seen better days, long ago. Abkarian portrayed Dimitrios as a slightly charming, yet intelligent man incapable of expressing love for his wife or reigning in his arrogance. The combination of this lack of affection and arrogance seemed prominent during his poker match with Bond at the One & Only Ocean Club gaming room. This arrogance seemed even more prominent in his confrontation with Le Chiffre, in which he refused to take the blame for Mollaka’s death in Madagascar. But it was Caterina Murino’s performance as Dimitrios’ wife, Solange, that really impressed me. Her pained reaction to Dimitrios’ cold indifference made it easy to understand why she had eventually turned to Bond for a little romance. Many critics and fans either tend to dismiss Solange as another Bond sexpot or ignore her altogether. I, on the other hand, found Murino’s performance to be earthy, intelligent and yet poignant. And although Solange had turned to Bond for a little solace, she is intelligent to realize that her husband is a man who cannot be trusted. Even more interesting, she quickly pinpointed Bond as a man who becomes involved in married women in order to avoid emotional entanglements.

Despite being a minor villain that only appeared near the movie’s beginning and halfway into the film, the Ugandan warlord and high-ranking member of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Steven Obanno, ended up providing a major impact upon Bond and Vesper’s relationship . . . and Le Chiffre’s desire to win the poker tournament. Ivory Coast actor Isaach De Bankolé portrayed Obanno – as a ruthless and intelligent man whom anyone with good sense would not cross. Something that Le Chiffre managed to do. During his brief screen time, De Bankolé managed to convey an intimidating presence. I also have to give kudos to him, Craig and director Martin Campbell for providing one of the most brutal and memorable fights in the franchise’s history.

Another villainous character appeared in the form of Danish actor Jesper Christensen. He portrayed Mr. White, the mysterious middleman of a terrorist organization that operates as a sort of asset management of terrorism. Like De Bankolé, Christensen only appeared in a few scenes. Yet, he also managed to convey both danger and intelligence. And when he walked away with the money won at Casino Royale, while Bond grieved over Vesper’s dead body in Venice, the audience is left with the sense that for the second time in the franchise’s history (the first time occurred in ”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE’s final scene), the bad guy had won. Until the final scene.

Last but not least, there was Sebastien Foucan. Co-founder of the a new sport/art form called Parkour, Foucan portrayed a freelance bomb maker named Mollaka who had attracted the attention of MI-6. I will discuss the foot chase that dominated Foucan’s scenes later. But I do want to point out that ”CASINO ROYALE” marked Foucan’s debut as an actor. He barely had much to say. In fact, he did not speak a word. But not only did Foucan display his remarkable skills in Parkour, he also managed to effectively convey his character’s fear, anger and desperation while trying to elude the relentless Bond. It looks as if those brief acting lessons he had acquired from Daniel Craig actually worked.

Plot

There are only two James Bond films within the entire franchise that do not begin in the following manner – gun barrel opening followed by the pre-title sequence. Those two films happen to be 1962’s ”DR. NO” and ”CASINO ROYALE””DR. NO” had began with a gun barrel sequence, followed by the opening titles and the story. Although ”CASINO ROYALE”consisted of both the gun barrel and the pre-title sequences, the movie began with the pre-title sequence, shot in bleak black-and-white. In the pre-title sequence, reminiscent of a film noir movie, the audience learn how James Bond earned his ”Double-0” license. Even more unusual, Bond’s killing of his first target (shown in flashback) segued into the very unusual gun barrel segment in which the agent picked up a fallen gun, whirled around and fired a shot. Already, the filmmakers have informed the audience that ”CASINO ROYALE” will prove to be a unique experience.

The real story began during a rainy sequence in Uganda, where the main villain and the two supporting villains are introduced – the banker Le Chiffre, the mysterious Mr. White and the warlord Steven Obanno. The meeting between Le Chiffre and Obanno had been arranged by Mr. White for the warlord needs a banker to launder his money. As much as I had liked ”LICENSE TO KILL”, one of my complaints was that the main villain had too many henchmen. Although”CASINO ROYALE” possessed one main villain, it also consisted of numerous supporting ones. But unlike the 1989 film, not all of ”CASINO ROYALE”’s villains were henchmen – which happened to be the case for both Obanno and White. In reality, Mr. White seemed to be at the head of the totem pole for villains opposing Bond in this film. Yet, Le Chiffre’s actions – using the money of clients like Obanno to participate in a stock scheme – turned out to be the story’s driving force. The moment Le Chiffre contacted his broker, he became the story’s main villain.

The movie shifted to another part of Africa – namely Madagascar. There, the newly promoted Bond and another MI-6 operative named Carter are observing a suspected bombmaker named Mollaka. Following Carter’s blundering revelation of their cover, what followed turned out to be one of the most exciting chase sequences in the franchise’s history. I can only think of four other chase scenes that I also hold in high regard – the two ski chases in “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” and “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”(1981) respectively, the boat chase through the Louisiana swamps in “LIVE AND LET DIE”, and the Ho Chi Minh City motocycle/helicopter chase in “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”(1997). Needless to say, the Madgascar foot chase ended with Bond’s invasion of a local embassy and Mollaka’s death. Unfortunately, the following scene turned out to be what I believe to be the movie’s weakest moment. The scene featured Le Chiffre watching a CNN news report about Mollaka’s death that identified the bombmaker’s killer as an “unidentified MI-6 agent”. Now I found this baffling. How on earth did CNN know that Bond was an MI-6 agent? Aside from Carter, he did not speak to a single soul during the entire Madagascar sequence.

The news report ended up getting M (head of MI-6) in trouble with the Ministry of Defense . . . and Bond in trouble with M. I have always found it odd that certain fans considered Bond’s break-in of M’s flat improbable, yet rarely complained about the CNN report. It was the latter that had struck me as improbable. M’s laptop obviously possessed a feature that enabled Bond to track Mollaka’s last cell text message. And considering M’s unwillingness to listen to him, it seemed unsurprising that Bond was willing to break into her flat. Bond and M’s eventual confrontation inside her flat revealed for the first time the dynamic chemistry between Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench. Quite frankly, I have not seen such a fascinating Bond-M relationship since the Timothy Dalton-Robert Brown collaboration in the late 1980s . . . or the George Lazenby-Bernard Lee duo.

After Bond ended up being ordered to take a vacation by an angry M to take a vacation, the scene shifted to the Bahamas. Bond’s arrival by seaplane gave the fans a chance to see how charasmatic a screen actor Craig can be. From the moment Bond had disembarked from that seaplane to the moment when he deliberately wrecked that German tourist’s Land Rover, Craig permanently put his own stamp on the Bond character. At least in my eyes. I can only assume that I do not have to mention Craig’s now famous emergence from the sea, wearing only powder-blue swim trunks. Allegedly, this is the scene that allowed Craig to win the hearts of many female. Yes, the man looked good enough to eat. But I had already been won over by him before I saw his “wet look”.

The Bahamas sequence also featured Bond’s interactions with Alex and Solange Dimitrios, and his sexy almost one-night stand with Solange. It also led to the Miami Airport, where the agent managed to foil Le Chiffre’s plot to bomb a new airline in order to boost his profits. As much as I found Bond’s encounter with another bombmaker named Carlos exciting, it is probably my least favorite action sequence in the film. What can I say? The dark setting, combined with screeching cars, incoming planes, gas spills and explosions . . . it all seemed too much. In fact, this scene came dangerously close to resembling one of those famous, over-the-top Michael Bay action sequences. But the sequence did provide one gem of a scene . . . the smug smile on Bond’s face as he watched Carlos explode from a bomb the latter had created.

Bond returned to the Bahamas, where he discovered that Solange Dimitrios had been tortured and killed by Le Chiffre’s people. M also met him there to give him his new assignment – participation in a poker tournament sponsored by Le Chiffre. Thanks to Bond’s actions in Miami, Le Chiffre needed to raise money in order pay back his clients and prevent his bosses from eliminating him – permanently. M ordered Bond to beat Le Chiffre and draw the latter into MI-6’s clutches for information. This minor scene gave moviegoers another opportunity to enjoy the Craig/Dench dynamics.

But the chemistry between Craig and Dench seemed minor in compare to the actor’s chemistry with the young actress who became his leading lady. I see no need to wax lyrical over Daniel Craig and Eva Green’s performances for the second time. However, I do believe that the scene featuring Bond’s first meeting with Vesper Lynd aboard a train bound for Montenegro just might be the best “Bond Meets the Leading Lady” scene in the franchise’s history. From the moment those two met, I sensed the chemistry that sizzled between them. The sparkling dialogue included in the scene certainly solidified their dynamics. The snarky banter that began on the train, continued right up to the moment when Vesper made it clear to Bond that she did not want to share a hotel elevator with him. I must admit that Paul Haggis (let’s be honest – I rather doubt that Purvis and Wade had made any real impact on the dialogue or it would be God awful) really did himself proud with the Bond-Vesper dialogue.

Aside from sharp wit, Bond and Vesper share another personality trait – both seemed to possess this desire to be in control. Bond’s need for control had already been expressed by his actions against Mollaka in Madagascar. I must be honest . . . I found Bond’s killing of the bombmaker to be a bit unecessary. He could have easily waited for the other man to leave the embassy in order to complete Le Chiffre’s assignment. No wonder M had been pissed. But discovering that Vesper may have also been controlling came as quite a surprise. I am, of course, referring to the humorous scene in which Bond and Vesper presented clothes for the other to wear. Bond wanted Vesper to wear an evening gown that would enhance Vesper’s sex appeal and distract his competition. Vesper wanted Bond to wear an evening jacket that she believed would make him look like a man who could afford to lose $15 million. Both attempted to assert their will upon the other. And both succeeded.

The story eventually focused upon the movie’s centerpiece – namely the poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. There have been a few dark comments about this particular sequence. Some fans and critics criticized the poker scenes for being boring and too slow. Others have criticized the scenes for its “inaccurate” portrayal of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. Honestly, I could not care less about the movie’s accurate portrayal of the game, especially since my knowledge of the game barely existed. And some complained that poker seemed pedestrian in compared to the baccarat used in the 1953 novel. Very few Bond fans know this, but Ian Fleming rarely played poker because he found it too intimidating for his taste. Personally, I believe that poker works better on film than baccarat. Thanks to the script and Campbell’s direction, this long sequence managed to flow smoothly. Purvis, Wade and Haggis also punctuated the poker scenes with minor incidents that included Steven Obanno’s appearance in Montenegro, Bond’s early loss of the 10 million given to him by HM Treasury, Felix Leiter’s financial rescue, Valenska’s attempt to poison Bond and the latter’s eventual victory. In fact, the entire Montenegro sequence is my favorite in the entire movie.

Due to Bond’s victory in the poker tournament, Le Chiffre found himself in a pickle. He no longer possessed the money to pay back his clients. Which meant that his life became expendable to his employers. Since Le Chiffre had no intention of running to the British or Americans as an informant, he decided upon the next best course of action. He interrupted Bond and Vesper’s celebration supper and kidnapped the latter. He did this to force Bond to hand over the password to the account holding the tournament’s winnings. Le Chiffe’s actions led to two famous scenes in the movie – Bond’s crash of the company’s Aston-Martin (which set a world’s record for seven turns of the car) and his torture at the hands of Le Chiffre.

One of the famous scenes in the 1953 Fleming novel featured Le Chiffre’s torture of Bond. In the novel, Le Chiffre stripped Bond naked and sat him on a chair with an open seat. Then he proceeded to beat Bond’s testicles with a carpet beater. Many of the novel’s fans had wondered if the film’s producers would do the torture scene justice, let alone include it. Needless to say, it was included in the film. Le Chiffre torture of Bond nearly followed the literary version . . . with one difference. Le Chiffre used a knotted rope, not a carpet beater. I must congratulate Craig and Mikelsen for their excellent performances; and Campbell for his marvelous direction of what turned out to be a taunt, humorous and painful scene of a Bond moment that I believe will be remembered for years to come.

The torture scene ended with on a rare note – not only in the literary version, but in the cinematic, as well. In the movie, the villain was killed at least a half hour before the movie’s end. After Le Chiffre failed to convince Bond to hand over the latter’s code to the account holding the poker winnings, he met his end at the hands of the enigmatic Mr. White. When I first saw “CASINO ROYALE”, I found it odd that the terrorist would allow Bond . . . and Vesper to survive. Before the movie ended, I would soon learn why.

Certain fans and critics have complained that Bond and Vesper’s romance seemed frustratingly short – especially for two characters that were obviously in love. I had countered numerous times that their romance had actually began on the train to Montenegro. The sequence that followed Le Chiffre’s death merely portrayed the culmination of their romance by allowing the couple to finally express their feelings. This sequence also featured two scenes in which Bond declared his love for Vesper. The first scene occured at the nursing home where Bond recuperated from his torture. When Vesper finally expressed how she felt about him, he responded with a joke that fell flat. He then finally expressed his own true feelings with the “I’m yours” speech. In a later scene set on a beach, Bond finally said the words – “I love you” to Vesper.

The movie shifted to Venice, the scene of two previous Bond movies – “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”(1963) and“MOONRAKER”(1979). In “FRWL”, Venice proved to be the climax of the entire film. In “MR”, the mystery surrounding villain Hugo Drax deepened in Venice. But the city proved to be a lot more for Bond in “CASINO ROYALE”. It was here that Bond learned that Vesper had betrayed him by stealing the funds for the organization behind Le Chiffre. This sequence provided great action that included Bond’s shoot-out with Gettler and the rest of Mr. White’s henchman, the sinking of a Venetian palazzo, and Vesper’s tragic yet slightly creepy death by drowning. The latter also emphasized Bond’s tragic relationship with Vesper. It also proved how the city turned out to provide a great emotional impact for the agent. I still cannot stop thinking about the scene that featured Mr. White observing Bond’s grief over Vesper’s dead body. The scene continues to send chills down my sign. It almost seemed like a metaphor of how the terrorist organization overshadowed Bond and Vesper’s relationship.

Looking slightly betrayed, Bond later learned the truth behind Vesper’s betrayal from M. Apparently, Vesper had a French-Algerian boyfriend who was kidnapped and held for ransom by the organization behind Le Chiffre and Mr White. Bond learned that she agreed to deliver the ransom money (his winnings) only if they would consent to leave Bond alive as well as her boyfriend. Vesper also left a message on his cell phone, giving him Mr. White’s name and telephone number. The look on the agent’s face upon learning this information seemed sad . . . and very confused.

But “CASINO ROYALE” had one last scene to unfold. Mr. White, secured in the knowledge that he finally managed to get his hands on the funds won by Bond in Montenegro, arrived at a palatial estate near Lake Como. He received a phone call from a voice asking for a moment to talk. And when Mr. White demanded to know the name of his caller, he received a shot in the leg. The movie finally ended with Mr. White crawling toward the villa and a very iconic-looking British agent, who coolly identified himself with the famous line – “The name’s Bond, James Bond.”

Miscellaneous

There are a lot more reasons why “CASINO ROYALE” immediately became one of my favorite Bond movies of all time. More than what I had already described. One reason happened to be the performances, of course. The movie was not only blessed with a first-rate supporting cast, it had a strong and charasmatic leading man and woman in both Daniel Craig and Eva Green. And although Martin Campbell is not known for being a memorable director, “CASINO ROYALE” joined the ranks of his best directorial efforts. I would go as far to say that the movie might so far, be the pinnacle of his career.

When I first saw the movie, I really did not think much of the movie’s theme song – “You Know My Name”, sung by Chris Cornell. I heard the first notes, judged it overbearing and continued to ignore the rest of the song. Upon my second and third viewings, I realized that “You Know My Name” was a lot better than I had imagined. Yet, it will probably never be considered a classic Bond song.

What made “CASINO ROYALE” such a great movie for me was the complex and emotional story adapted for the screen by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis. The trio did a first-rate job of adapting Fleming’s novella. They also managed to effectively fill out the story, making it palatable as a full-length Bond movie – something that could not have been done with the novella alone. But what I had truly loved about “CASINO ROYALE” were the moments . . . the little moments that made it more than just a typical Bond movie with action, girls and gadgets. Those moments – whether they were the different expressions on Bond’s face, minor words and conversations, gestures made by the movie’s many characters – made it magical for me. It made the movie human and far more interesting that any typical Bond action movie.