I’ve just re-read the book and re-watched the film. I haven’t read the book for years, and I haven’t watched the film since it came out. I’m re-reading the books in order (though I’m not going to watch the film for each book – that would be torture – I may take another look at From Russia With Love, Doctor No, Goldfinger, For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights when I get to books 5-8 and 14 respectively if only because those are the films I like!)
The film’s really still as impressive as it was 2 years ago. It’s incredible how true it is to the book, and how much it dares to improve on it. Yet at the same time, it’s notable (and perhaps unfortunate) how true it also is to the traditions of the films, with all of the trademarks, from the naff quips to the disfigured villain’s tic (in this case the ventolin inhaler which Bond bugs). The cold war and SMERSH update unexpectedly well to a post-9/11 secret organisation engaged in bankrolling terrorists in a symbiotic relationship that is only threatened by Le Chiffre’s failure at the card table; the stakes are as high as in the book and even when tension of the card game that provides the heart of the film is unfortunately interrupted by disgruntled clients it is to reinforce the peril that Le Chiffre faces simply from Bond’s skill and luck at the table. Even the silly difribulator in the glove compartment is an improvement on Fleming’s walking-stick gun. And all for all the fuss made about Daniel Craig and his swimming trunks, in the book he takes them off!
Although the sequence in Madagascar has to be one of the best stunt sequences in any Bond film ever, after this it’s not until the card game that the film really gets going. Here the excitement and the tension of Fleming’s story is realised so well it eclipses the book. It’s only the last quarter of an hour of the film where doubts about the changes made set in. It is good – but does it match up to Vesper’s final evening with Bond in the book, where in the knowledge of what she will do she is so cold she almost makes Bond look human?
“Yes dammit, I said ‘was’. The bitch is dead now.”
And I missed Mathis’ talk about playing Red Indians which, while not very politically correct, would have had some resonance given Bond’s behaviour in the Nambutu embassy, as well has helping to define Bond’s conviction to stay with MI6 to prevent such traitors simply strolling off with state secrets.
Performance-wise, Mads Mikkelsen is a little cartoonish as Le Chiffre. While it’s true that there’s not a lot of the character in Flemings original to realise, his portrayal has little depth and it’s not until his final scene that he pushes the desperation he must feel at his predicament. On the other hand, Eva Green is incredible; similarly poorly served by Fleming’s sketch of the character Green makes Vesper cooler, smarter and sexier than her literary precursor. Both the sparky encounter on the train and the shivery scene in the shower give the her a range and depth that Fleming failed to capture. I’ll admit I’ve fallen in love with a few previous Bond girls but Green’s Vesper is peerless. And the chemistry with Craig, who it has been widely noted is simply excellent, is electric.
Will the Quantum of Solace, a.k.a. New Bond 2, live up to quality of Craig’s first outing? There are several factors against this. There’s the source material: Casino Royale‘s best moments, the heart of the film, are around the card game and the torture scene which come straight from the book. Take that away and you’ve got a distinctly less impressive runaround. As noted, the old Bond cliches are there – for example in the Nambutu embassy, when the sirens go off and all the men with machine guns run out it’s reminiscent of every film from You Only Live Twice to Tomorrow Never Dies, it’s just that it’s done with a conviction and care that makes it work. So then there’s the Martin Campbell factor: he’s a man with a track record of launching new Bonds; in the past subsequent films have failed to live up to the promise of the first. And for me the most persuasive argument that we’re about to be served a dud is the budget factor – Casino Royale has a smaller budget than the three films that preceded it, yet Quantum‘s budget is over twice as big, easily the most ever spent on a Bond film. The final nail in the coffin is that despite having the good sense to use Fleming’s title for the film, this will be marred by naming mysterious organisation from Casino Quantum for, I imagine, no better reason than trying to justify the choice of title.
On the plus side, there’s Daniel Craig again, it’s the shortest Bond film ever (even though Casino Royale was a full 2 hours 20 it would have been a much better film if 40 minutes had been trimmed from the first half). There’s Paul Haggis back writing the script. Then there’s the fact that even if it’s not another Casino Royale, as long as it’s not Moonraker or Die Another Day it’ll probably make me happy.