"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Friday, August 5, 2011

Film Friday: Casino Royale

Fleming, Ian. Casino Royale. New York: Penguin, 1953.

"Introducing James Bond: charming, sophisticated, handsome; chillingly ruthless and licensed to kill. This, the first of Ian Fleming's tales of secret agent 007, finds Bond on a mission to neutralize a lethal, high-rolling Russian operative called simply "Le Chiffre"--by ruining him at the Baccarat table and forcing his Soviet spymasters to 'retire' him. It seems that lady luck is taken with 007--Le Chiffre has hit a losing streak. But some people just refuse to play by the rules, and Bond's attraction to a beautiful female agent leads him to disaster and an unexpected savior." (description from book cover)

Book Rating: *** (out of five)
Movie Rating: **** (out of five)

  • Plot. Fleming's inaugural James bond novel is certainly gripping.  Bombs, hit men, torture, gambling, sex. This book has it all, and the mixture is entertaining. Fleming's world of espionage is based backstabbing and double agents, and he knows just how far to go before it gets ridiculous.
  • Lack of Judgement. I like authors who present their characters on their own merits,without trying to force a ready-made definition of good or evil down the audiences' throats, and Fleming often succeeds at doing just that.
  • Dialogue. Fleming may be able to spin a yarn, but his characters could use some better self-expression.  It's not that it is overtly cliched, it simply seems stilted at times.
  • Sex and Violence. As I think most people know to expect, the book has plenty of, well, sex and violence. There are also less than flattering observations made of the women in the book, though the sexism is more tempered than I anticipated.

This book is not high literature, which is fine, because I don't believe it was meant to be. It is important to remember that much of what we consider to be cliches fo the espionage thriller originated with James Bond, and thus were not yet cliches when the books were written. What I find most compelling about this book is Fleming's exploration of the grey area of life. We like clear divisions in life, but the Cold War (the background of this novel) was a time of great ambiguity. An emphasis on the covert rather than the overt meant that both good and bad were deceptive. Casino Royale highlights this and plays with it, creating a mind game with the characters and the audience, leaving everyone wondering not only what side people are on, but what actions are justified when both sides are using the same tactics against each other. Though Bond is working for the "good guys," Fleming never tells us that he is a hero, or that he should be.

The Film:
I'll be blunt: I love this movie. Certainly, movies make the essential "show don't tell" of action easier.  Bond kills two people (thus earning his 00 status) before the opening credits. And while Daniel Craig may not quite fit the physical description of Bond from the book, he has the quick switch between smooth seductor and cold killer down pat, and he even shows how intertwined the two qualities are. And the supporting cast is equally excellent (have to love Judi Dench as M: "Christ, I miss the Cold War."), with a Bond girl who has intellect. It's also a visually stunning movie, with picturesque locales from the Bahamas to Montenegro.  Aside form the changes required to update the book, the plot retains the essentials of the book. Except, of course, that the game is poker instead of baccarat. Basically, the movie is the book on steroids. But it also offers a little more in the way of emotion and character development than your usual action flick, which is what truly makes it worth watching.


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  2. i didn't know that this movie had a book version. Anyway, I'd love to see Bond play casino online using his cool gadgets. hehe