What’s so British about Bond?: A Timely Review of Casino Royale

After realizing that good buddy TMC just put up a 955 word post, here's my 890 words on Casino Royale: (hey, it just came out on DVD!)

Casino Royale, featuring first-time Bondsman Daniel Craig, has been enthusiastically received on both sides of the Atlantic, by audiences and critics alike. It is a reinvigoration rather than reinstallment of the James Bond franchise, much along the lines of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. The movie is based on Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, published in 1953, and introduces not just a new Bond actor but also a new Bond—a novice MI6 agent just minted in his “double oh” status, that is, with a License to Do Ill.

Casino Royale explodes the myth of Bond as a British gentleman spy who can emerge from a lion cage with tuxedo unsullied and martini unspilled. In this, the movie succeeds, but perhaps too well. Because the question arises time after time: What is so British about this Bond?

Daniel Craig’s Bond looks good in a tux, but he is no gentleman. He is not subtle, nor does he appear to be that smart. His blundering attempts at spycraft would make George Smiley—John Le Carré’s portly paragon of British intelligence—roll over in his grave. In fact, strip away his accent and our poor James resembles nothing more than the stereotypical “Ugly American”: brash, loud, overconfident, impatient, and destructive.

Of course Casino Royale is a solid action yarn with thrilling, brutal set pieces, but the movie also works as a metaphor for American intervention since World War II—particularly the U.S.A.’s recent efforts to wage the War on Terror at home and abroad. To wit:

§ James Bond, pursuing a single villain, destroys a sprawling Third World development, causing significant collateral damage among the innocent workers. Not once does he ask, “Why do they hate us?”

§ During this same pursuit, James Bond egregiously, willfully, violates International Law.

§ Bond’s nemesis in the chase moves with fluid grace; obstacles become opportunities. Bond’s style of pursuit, however, is stilted and linear and creates more obstacles than existed previously.

§ Bond indulges in domestic surveillance and violates the privacy of his matronly boss, M, by accessing her computer in order to acquire information he believes is necessary to capture a terrorist.

§ Bond frequently blunders in his attempts at concealment and covert action, which are easily detected.

§ Bond’s clumsy attempts at cultivating intelligence sources end up getting someone killed.

§ Bond only has a vague plan to capture a suspected terrorist financier. This plan is also extremely expensive.

§ Bond purposely blows his own cover on this mission.

§ A typical Bond blunder requires him to make a big mess. Unfortunately, he does not follow the “You broke it you bought it” axiom and calls on others to clean it up for him.

§ Bond believes that he can look into his opponent’s eyes to determine his true intentions; however, his opponents are able to repeatedly deceive and outmaneuver him. Bond must rely on others to bail him out of these situations.

§ Bond survives a particularly harrowing ordeal through means we know he is unable to account for. When a close ally suggests that Bond try to figure out what happened and why, Bond has this ally imprisoned. Then, Bond goes on vacation.

§ Bond gets into a big fight and again causes significant collateral damage; in short, he “destroys a house in order to save it.”

§ Bond accepts his superior’s multiple, contradictory explanations of events without question. Then he insists on “staying the course” with regards to the indefinite imprisonment and interrogation of his former close ally.

Remember the British generals in Iraq who tsk-tsked the American soldiers for driving around in full body armor, hidden behind Ray Bans and blasting heavy metal music, itchy fingers massaging their machine gun triggers? They would have a field day with this Bond, who would stand out like, well, an American in Iraq among the smiling, beret-wearing, culturally sensitive British soldiers. In this movie, the roles are reversed to such a degree that a CIA agent is the voice of reason who dissuades Bond from starting a bloodbath. And let’s just be kind and say that Bond's approach to poker could benefit from a good listen to Kenny Rogers.

Perhaps Bond is only playing to the level of his competition, however—Baltimore street gangs in HBO’s The Wire have a more sophisticated approach to cell phones than international terrorist financiers, apparently. But that should not excuse his inability to pull off a decent one-liner:

M: I knew it was too early to promote you.
Bond: Well, I understand double-ohs have a very short life expectancy. So your mistake will be short-lived.

A true bon mot would set up a contrast: Well, I understand double-ohs don’t last long, so your mistake will be short-lived.

But for all of Bond’s blundering, he does get his man. More or less. Perhaps we can carry the analogy further: The U.S.A. is a young country; Bond is a young agent. We are new to the game and have a tendency to flail around the international stage like the proverbial bull in a china shop. But, just like Bond, we are learning hard lessons. It is implied that in subsequent movies Bond will harness his skills and use them more wisely. Here’s hoping that we Americans will follow his British lead.

1 comment:

TMC said...

The original first line of my 955-word post, since redacted due to gross inaccuracy:

"Okay, this won't be a long detailed movie review; just a quick take on 300."