I haven’t posted in a good, long while, for a veritable cornucopia of reasons, including this site’s migration to the same server that hosts my primary creative focal point, OverClocked ReMix. I intend to post more often now, if only because I’ve visited several blogs in the interim that seemed even less interesting than my own, which renewed my motivation. We’ll start with a bit on the new JB film, starring the much ballyhooed blond Bond Daniel Craig and the obscenely beautiful Eva Green as his accountant love interest.
Director Martin Campbell isn’t gifted with an overabundance of what I’d call talent or subtlety, his largest efforts to date consisting of the enjoyable-but-disposable Zorro flicks. This is his best work yet, however, as most of the film moves along with a momentum and style that’s simultaneously classier than the aforementioned efforts but more rugged and raw than what we’re using to seeing in a Bond film; it’s hard to imagine Pierce Brosnan taking the same type of beating Craig does on multiple occasions and passing the laugh test - it’d tussle his immaculate hair, to be sure. Most of the plot revolves around a high-stakes poker game in which baddy Le Chiffre is trying to win back money he lent from international terrorists and Bond (as well as token American CIA presence Felix Leiter, played by an underutilized but consistently competent Jeffrey Wright) is trying to win so that Le Chiffre will be forced to divulge the secrets of the many organizations he represents. This all transpires in scenic Montenegro, with highlight scenes including initial witty banter between Vesper (Green) and Bond en route to their destination and a suspenseful post-intoxication cardiac arrest situation.
[Spoilers from here on out]
Everything was moving along splendidly, and I was ready to hail Craig, and more importantly the new stylistic direction the franchise was taking, as a bona fide success, but the problems begin when the poker ends. Bond’s primary nemesis is taken out of the picture, and what should have been a five-minute denouement becomes a 20-minute plot twist that lacks plausibility and narrative infrastructure. While it may be neat to see a building slowly sink into watery Venician depths, this trailer-ready money-shot hardly legitimizes the plot pretzel necessary to contextualize it. Vesper, it seems, was at some indeterminate point blackmailed into turning over the $100 million poker winnings to the organization that Le Chiffre answered to, in exchange for the life of her French-Algierian boyfriend. Is it meaningful that this boyfriend - whom we never actually see - is French-Algierian? Not really, except to explain the sole bit of foreshadowing the film inserts to allow for his existence, a dinner conversation about the nature of Vesper’s necklace. There are more than a couple problems with all of this:
- If Vesper is an accountant with MI6, or at least a British officer approved to be working with MI6 agents, it seems a little strange that she wouldn’t turn to them, being the elite badasses that they are, to assist with emancipating her elusive beau, instead of betraying them outright.
- The time at which she is initially blackmailed is unknown; it’s inferred that this takes place on the boat, where “Mr. White” (who’s only skeletally established as an antagonist) somehow shows up early enough to save Bond’s life (which M suggests Vesper arranged) and axe Le Chiffre, but late enough to allow Bond to be tortured, which apparently Vesper could not prevent. This would have meant that Mr. White had already captured the unnamed French-Algierian, suggesting that his plan - in advance - was to bank entirely on the sentimental attachment of… an accountant. That’s amusing enough, but he really didn’t know if she’d be alive or dead, given his late timing in arriving on the boat in the first place, so he seems like something of an… optimist.
- Nevertheless, she goes through with it. For no apparent reason, one of the baddies in Venice has glasses with an eyepatch of sorts, suggesting Le Chiffre, but this is just a meaningless coincidence. Goofy, but whatever. Here’s where things truly get problematic: M suggests at the film’s conclusion that Vesper probably knew she was going to her death. This means that her love for the no-show French-Algierian was so great that - rather than bank on MI6’s ability to save him - she decided the best course of action was to donate $100 million to terrorists who would probably just kill both of them. This boyfriend is indeed absent from the fiscal transaction, and when Bond shows up and all hell ensues, Vesper seemingly refuses to let Bond save her life, as she drowns in a descending elevator. This earns a world-class “WTF?” from me; the entire last quarter of the film revolves around a character we never see, and involves utterly implausible and ill-explained motivations.
It should have simply been “Casino Royale”, with the bulk of the film taking place in… the casino. They could have employed the uber-talented Wright more, for one, and avoided the embarrassing narrative acrobatics of Vesper’s betrayal altogether. There was clearly a desire to show how Bond became the hardened, attachment-phobic womanizer he is, but that could have involved Vesper simply being killed, or at least a betrayal that made more sense and didn’t chew up as much screen time playing itself out. Instead, we get Vincent Vega’s “Casino Royale w/ Cheese“: 75% of a groundbreaking, well-executed, and much-needed change for the ailing Bond franchise, and 25% of deus-ex-machismo.
It’s a shame; what could have been a straight flush gets flushed straight down the toilet. Even with these flaws, however, the new Bond succeeds on style over substance, and deals a pretty decent hand.
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