11/21/2006

Casino Royale

Posted in Side Topics at 3:14 pm by Sam

Rather than have people try to work non-spoiler comments of Casino Royale into the Episode 8 thread, we thought we’d open a new place for that discussion. So, what did you think of Casino Royale?

Spoiler warning for the comments that follow!

9 Comments »

  1. Dave (130) said,

    November 21, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    I wanted to like Casino Royale really badly, and for about the first two-thirds of the movie, I really *did* like it a lot. But for me the movie goes off the rails in the third act and it completely lost me. I was confused by what was going on, I stopped caring what was happening because I was confused, and I felt it just kept going and going and going when there were at least three times where it felt to me like the movie was winding down and wrapping up (first is the scene with Vesper and Bond having dinner after Le Chiffre is bankrupted, just before she gets called away and the third act basically starts. The second is after Bond has Mathis taken away and he’s recovering in the hospital, and third is right before it actually does end, when Bond is on the boat talking to M.) I’m not saying the movie would have been better *had* it ended at any of those places, but the sense of “Ok, it’s wrapping up now, WAIT NO IT’S NOT THERE’S MORE!!!” kept distracting me and throwing me out of the narrative worse than I already was. I’ve since had the third act explained to me, and I think now I may just need to see the movie again. The false endings wont distract me obviously, and hopefully I’ll be able to fully appreciate the third act. I know a BIG part of the problem was I had NO CLUE who Mr. White was (somehow I missed every reference to him in the movie up until the scene where he busts in and kills Le Chiffre) and I completely misunderstood the origins of the text message that leads Bond to him. So knowing all that now will certainly help my apprecion of the movie on a second viewing.

    As for how it works as a Bond film–I love the new tone. I felt the first act goes on for a little bit too long, but since they front-loaded all the action I guess they wanted to extend it a bit to make sure we got our fill of high-octane chases before they settled down for an hour and a half of poker. I think the second act is pretty much flawless, I love all the intrigues and the smaller action bits that break up the casino scenes. As something of a poker nut, I knew what Bond was holding as soon as I saw the turn (the fourth community card) but was fairly surprised by Le Chiffre’s hand. At first I thought it was a little stupid, but it’s actually far more realistic than what I assumed he had. Of the four guys in the hand, I had called straight, flush, quads, straight flush, but the resulting flush, full-house, bigger full-house, straight flush seems much more “realistic” in retrospect.

    The third act… well, I already talked about that. I haven’t decided yet whose “fault” it is that I didn’t get the third act, so I’ll withold judgement on that until I see it again, sometime after it comes out on DVD I suspect (I’m not paying $10 again on the off chance I’ll suddenly like the movie a hole lot.)

  2. Stephen (221) said,

    November 21, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    I liked the weird structure. The instant Le Chiffre gets killed (this is the scene I was talking about as being surprising in the podcast), the movie goes off the rails. It really seems like it’s over, but… it’s not. It keeps going, and I was sort of tense.

    I figured we’d have to get some resolution of who shot Le Chiffre, but they really spend a lot of time with Vesper and Bond, which is kind of cool. It actually establishes a somewhat real romantic relationship with a Bond girl.

    My only real complaint with the end is how it’s Bond versus some guys we don’t know. The climax in Venice is a real letdown after the rest of the film.

    But the bit with M on the boat is really the end of the movie, in my opinion. When we go back to Mr. White, it’s an epilogue in the same way the pre-credits stuff is a prologue.

    One thing I do absolutely love is the last shot, as Bond introduces himself and we FINALLY get the Bond theme. What a moment.

    So am I the only one who thinks this film may have been a set-up for introducing SPECTRE to the revamped film series? I understand that in the novel, Le Chiffre worked for SMERSH, but in the film the organization he works for is unnamed — M doesn’t even know who it is. All I could think of was SPECTRE, or at least some new equivalent. Bond 22 will be interesting.

  3. Dave (130) said,

    November 21, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    I was “sort of tense” too during the whole third act, but not in a good way. I was tense because it seemed to me like the movie had suddenly decided to stop playing fair with the audience. First, Bond has the flash of insight out of the blue that Mathis betrayed him, and goes off to just miss saving Vesper from being kidnapped. First of all, it hadn’t even occured to me that he *had* been betrayed. The reason given a little later is that Bond suddenly realized it must have been Mathis who tipped off Le Chiffre about his tell. But frankly, anybody who actually plays poker rather than just watching dramatizations of poker in movies knows that tells that damn blatant simply don’t exist (or, if they do, the guy who has them is bankrupt LONG before he has a chance to play in a $10M buy-in tournament.) So it never occured to me that it was even necessary that someone *had* stooged to Le Chiffre. In fact, I really thought it was just a great bit where Bond was simply *mistaken* about the tell, or perhaps even better, that Le Chiffre was intentionally luring Bond in with a false tell so he could milk him for more money later. The eventual revelation that it was, in fact, a real tell and that someone had simply told Le Chiffre about it kind of pissed me off, actually.

    Then when Mr White busts in and shoots Le Chiffre, I again thought the movie wasn’t playing fair, but this one is probably just my fault. I had no idea who this guy was, so it was just a completely random scene to me, introducing a new badguy out of nowhere.

    Then again, in Venice, when Vesper sees the one-eyed man (or whoever that guy was), it was another “great, again they’re introducing a random baddy and doing another out-of-the-blue double-cross” moment where I felt like the movie was cheating.

    Finally, the bit at the end on the boat, where Bond sees the text message that Vesper left for him–my befuddled understanding was that this was actually a message FROM the Mr White character that had just come in, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out WHY. This one is definitely my fault, although I think it could have been just a tad clearer.

    So yeah, all that adds up to me hating the third act and thinking the movie stopped playing fair. Some of those are flaws with the movie, I think, but obviously some of them were just my fault for not really seeing what was going on properly. Still, it adds up to me coming away from the movie in a funk, wondering how such a promising first two acts could be so derailed by such a disjointed and unfulfilling third act.

    Gotta admit, though, I did love that very last bit too. It hadn’t even occured to me yet that they hadn’t yet played the Bond theme proper until then, and the “Bond, James Bond” bit was great. Looking at it now, I love it even more, because it’s obvious that they’re setting up the character of Bond throughout the whole movie, and we finally get most of the pieces of the “Bond” puzzle put together at the end, so the fact that he doesn’t introduce himself in the now-classic way until the very end is really fitting.

  4. Stephen (221) said,

    November 21, 2006 at 11:21 pm

    It’s not clear at the end whether Mathis has betrayed Bond or not. I think he has, but there’s no way to tell for sure. I sort of suspected Mathis from the get-go, because he’s so shady looking.

  5. Dave (130) said,

    November 21, 2006 at 11:30 pm

    I don’t know, Le Chiffre basically confirms that Mathis was on his side. I’m not sure why exactly he would lie to Bond about that. I recall Le Chiffre being the one to bring up the subject of Mathis, so it doesn’t even seem to me like Bond mentioned Mathis and Le Chiffre just played along to mess with him.

    See, my limited understanding of the whole thing was that Vesper wasn’t “turned” until Mr White came in and shot up the place. I thought that she had then made a deal with Mr White to get the money for him, so he lets them both go to let her work it out. Seems like he saw the “direct” approach wasn’t working for Le Chiffre, so he was gonna try a more subtle approach to get the money back.

    But I don’t know, there’s also that bit about her being blackmailed the whole time because her boyfriend owes Mr White’s organization money or something. So it’s really just confusing to me.

  6. Sam (405) said,

    November 22, 2006 at 12:50 am

    Thinking about it now, I’m not sure I can prove from memory that I’m right about this, but my understanding is that Vesper was gotten to well before Le Chiffre capturing Bond and Vesper. Like you say, they had her boyfriend ahead of time, and they didn’t just say, “Ok, let’s bust in on Le Chiffre so we can blackmail Vesper.”

    More likely, here’s what happens: The Unknown Organization of Which Mr. White Is a Member says, hmm, ok, we’re gonna get this money, and we’ve got leverage here to get Vesper to get it to us. So, let’s blackmail Vesper. Vesper agrees to go along with the plan.

    And *then* Le Chiffre unwittingly intervenes in that plan by kidnapping Bond and Vesper. The Organization is all peeved at Le Chiffre anyway, because whether or not he gets the money, he’s proven to be too unreliable (in failing with his stock market sabotage plot) and risky (gambling with the cash in the first place). So Le Chiffre is probably going to be toast anyway, but when he interrupts the Organization’s plan with Vesper by kidnapping her and Bond, they decide to intervene, take the opportunity to kill everybody they were probably going to kill eventually anyway, and rescue Vesper so she can secure the cash. Vesper intercedes for Bond, and they spare him too.

    Although, now that I think about it, the Organization needed Bond alive anyway, because clearly he was the only one with the access to the money. Kill Bond, and it’s out of Vesper’s hands. So maybe this interpretation is wrong.

    It is, however, at least right in the general sense. Vesper was essentially a good guy, forced to do a job for the badguys, but ultimately going above and beyond to give Bond every chance to foil the plot. I’ll have to watch it again on DVD to sort out some of the details, but regardless, I find the character herself and her dilemma to be exceptionally compelling. And that, in itself, is pretty remarkable. I mean, there have been some pretty good Bond girls and some pretty bad Bond girls, but I’m straining to think of even one that has as interesting a story as Vesper’s.

    Changing the subject, I also kind of think the third act is the weakest, but not for the same reasons. Like Stephen, I liked the weird structure to it. I liked not being able to predict where the story was going and when it would end just based on my own adrenaline level. But the biggest weakness of the film, I think, is that action sequence in Venice. The whole thing about the building sinking into the canal just didn’t work at all, and as much as I give credit to Martin Campbell for putting together what I think is basically a great Bond movie, that whole scene also has his fingerprints on it. I loved the other two big action sequences, but the Venice business just doesn’t work at all. And besides not working as an action spectacle, there is some real uncertainty about the portrayal of the characters. Does Bond want Vesper dead or not? One second he’s about to shoot her, and in the next he’s desperate to save her life. And what of Vesper? She seems not to want to be rescued and takes steps to prevent it, but why? She had nothing to die for. I just don’t really buy what happens in that sequence.

    But it’s one sequence, and I don’t think it clouds the narrative so badly that we aren’t able to ultimately make sense of it (which is what happens, I think, in the first Mission: Impossible movie, which you brought up — bad acting and staging actually confuse the narrative itself!). The rest, I just plain loved.

  7. Stephen (221) said,

    November 22, 2006 at 1:13 am

    I actually think Bond’s mixed reactions — he’s going to kill her, then wants to save her — are about right there. I can buy that he’s confused.

    And if Vesper didn’t actually bargain for Bond’s life, then she did betray him and that’s why she chooses to die. I agree that the organization needs Bond alive, so I’m not sure that M’s theory about Vesper saving Bond is correct. In that case, I get why she might be wracked with guilt.

  8. Dave (130) said,

    November 22, 2006 at 5:09 am

    Thinking about it now, I’m not sure I can prove from memory that I’m right about this, but my understanding is that Vesper was gotten to well before Le Chiffre capturing Bond and Vesper. Like you say, they had her boyfriend ahead of time, and they didn’t just say, “Ok, let’s bust in on Le Chiffre so we can blackmail Vesper.”

    No, obviously he doesn’t just burst in to get to Vesper. My understanding is he burst in to kill Le Chiffre because he had failed to win the tournament and get the money back. I believe that this is the same night that Bond won the game and bankrupted Le Chiffre, and it’s already been established that Le Chiffre is wanted dead by numerous people. Mr White is presumably only letting him live so he can play in the game and get the money back–once he fails, well, his life is forfeit. What I thought was that he was there looking to kill Le Chiffre–that Le Chiffre had Bond and Vesper captive there already was just a bonus. I don’t know. I know in the book it’s made clear that Vesper was a double-agent the entire time, but I’m not sure the movie is at all clear on that, and I still lean towards that not being the case.

  9. Dave (130) said,

    November 22, 2006 at 5:16 am

    Also, it makes sense that the Mr White’s organization would have some dirt on everybody playing in the game (or one of their associates) if at all possible before things get going–they’re criminals, they’re looking to get their money back by hook or by crook. So yeah, I buy that the organization had dug up this dirt on Vesper long before the end of the movie. But that doesn’t mean they were using it yet, or had even informed Vesper about what they had. If Le Chiffre wins the game, they don’t need to use any of that dirt–they can stick it in their back pocket for another day. Presumably they did their best to get something they could use against Leiter and everyone else in the game if one of them managed to win.

    Once someone other than Le Chiffre wins the game, then you have your fallback plan available–in Bond’s case, it was Vesper’s boyfriend or whatever that crap was. Get her to double-cross Bond and get your money back in exchange for not killing her and Bond and–presumably–her boyfriend in Algeria or wherever.

    Then again, now that I think about it, the whole poker game thing is a pretty complex thing if all you want to do is make some quick cash to recoup some losses, especially if you can just dig up dirt on the rich people you intend to invite to the game anyway. Easier to just extort the money from them directly and not have to worry about how the cards fall. So I dunno. Whatever.

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