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Mr Fleming would be very impressed

Last night, I went along to see the latest 007 movie along with my wife, as well as Perry de Havilland of this parish, regular Samizdata commentator and friend Julian Taylor, David Shaw and others. There had been so much media noise and excitement leading up to the film, starring Daniel Craig as Bond, that I just had to go and see it.

I am very glad that I did so. I am one of those folk who actually prefers the original Ian Fleming books to the films, and I have a consequent dislike of the nonsense of the Roger Moore films, and the excesses of gadgetry and sheer silliness that the film-makers imposed on the stories after the first two or three of the Sean Connery movies, which are my favourites. So the fact that the new film deliberately sought to be more hard-edged, less dependent on gimmickry and cheesiness, was a good development.

Daniel Craig has been a controversial choice for Bond. The Bond of the novels is a slim, dark-haired old Etonian, of Swiss-French and Scottish ancestry – with a hard streak, a weakness for beautiful women in distress and a belief in living life to the full. Craig does well to convey the hard side of Bond, but he tries a bit too hard, sometimes. He comes across as a sort of over-muscled army squaddie, who struts about the set rather than adopt the sort of feline grace of Fleming’s character. But there is no doubting that Craig – who says he loves the Fleming novels – has taken up the challenge of portraying Bond as not just some suave dude who can kill and seduce the girls, but who can also take risks and get hurt in the service of his cause – his country. And that is the unspoken message of this film, and very un-PC it is. Bond is a patriot (not much sign that he wants to work for the UN). He kills without the need to consult a post-traumatic stress disorder clinic, and is more likely to drink a large glass of bourbon instead. He gets cut, he gets beaten up, and he falls in love and learns the dangers of emotional involvement with ravishing brunettes (not that there is anything wrong with ravishing brunettes, ahem).

I thought the scene in the casino was the highlight, and even though the game was poker rather than baccarat – as in the story – the tension is built up nicely. The setting is nice, the actors who support Bond are pretty good, and the actress who plays Vesper is lovely – I can see why any red-blooded man can fall for her. The torture scene, taken from the original book, is pretty nasty, although the scene in the book is far nastier (it gave Raymond Chandler nightmares, apparently).

Some of the stunt/action scenes do not seem to add a great deal to the plot – such as the amazing scene at Miami airport – but they are incredibly well-done. For sheer excitement, the opening half-hour of the film cannot be beaten.

What is clear is that the film-makers, seeing how the Bond movies were mocked by the Austin Powers series of Mike Myers, have decided that our Jim is not going to put up with being a joke any more. Daniel Craig deserves a large, well-made vodka martini – made the right way, obviously – for playing 007 so well, and with such obvious conviction and relish.

Good review of the movie here.

The original Fleming novel is definitely worth a read. Meanwhile, Jim Henley has thoughts.

One final gripe: will the moviemakers ever get the casting right of Felix Leiter, Bonds’ CIA buddy? In the books, he is a fair-headed Texan, ex-Marine Corps with a wonderfully sardonic sense of humour.

(Update: here is my review of Simon Winder’s recent diverting if also irritating book about the James Bond phenomenon and post-war British history.)

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7 comments to Mr Fleming would be very impressed

  • guy herbert

    Even thouigh the substitution of poker for baccarat is driven by product-placement and modernisation, I think that at least may be an improvement on the book. Poker is a game of skill, that repays great nerve and courage. Baccarat is just luck.

  • The movies has precious cues for everyday’s life. As a token, I liked the Commander’s home remedy for the sorry mess after killing the Ugandans in the Casino in Montenegro: A freshly ironed shirt, a liberal tumblerful of whisky, and back to the table.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    guy, I honestly do not know whether it is “just luck” or not. Baccarat presumably requires one to follow the sequence of cards and have the courage to go for a particular hand. Luck is involved in all forms of gambling, surely.

    No, I think product placement was the reason here.

  • K

    When I heard that Casino was going back to the books, I was interested in seeing the movie as well. I found it a disappointment as an action film but a pretty fair reinvention of the Bond franchise. The action scenes tended to run on too long which is a sign that they were either ill planned or poorly executed. Likewise, the movie tends to be sluggish in the middle due to over extended character development and a lack of plot discipline. Plus the fact that the conversations between Bond and the love interest seemed to be held in slow motion.

    Spoilers:

    There was no reason for the defibrulator scene in the story and should have been cut out. The notion that Bond’s car should be so equipped stretches credulity, even for a Bond film. The notion that after he survives heart failure he’s up and operating, apparently at full speed, was also a sour note.

  • Jacob

    Good idea Johnathan:
    Secret agent 007 in the service of His Excelency, The Secretary General. Bacarat palying funded by oil for food program. The moment Bond catches the villain he is immediately referred to the Security Council, for debate. Snactions vetoed by Russia.

    The only area where Ian Fleming adherred to diverssity rules is in the choice of women. They are sometimes blondes and sometimes brunettes. Bond isn’t discriminating.

  • HJHJ

    The best summing up I heard was by Simon Mayo on Radio 5: It’s a big improvement on recent Bond films in all respects. Daniel Craig, however, is rather better than the film.

  • tdh

    Bond’s flipped, from portraying 1980s terrorists as freedom fighters, to portraying 1980ish freedom fighters as terrorists. Originality, and some depth, at a price.