The Facts of Death: Casino Royale, Part VII

Casino Royale consists of two mini-movies. The first of these involves Bond’s hunt for the meaning of “Ellipsis,” a cryptic codeword being traded among mercenary terrorists. This mini-movie climaxes here, with the Miami airport setpiece, before the film resets and transitions into a glamorous spy thriller built on the skeleton of the Ian Fleming source material.

This somewhat ungainly structure has some merits and some substantial weaknesses; this action-driven first half does grant us ample time to familiarize ourselves with this reckless, rookie Bond’s default settings. But, aside from establishing Bond’s prickly relationship with M, this narrative material also feels fairly isolated from the story that follows. Additionally, front-loading the film with spectacular action setpieces results in a perceptible slowdown when the film realigns during the second half.

If I’m being honest, the Miami material ranks as my least-favorite stretch in Casino Royale. It’s competently-conceived and executed (more so, in fact, than some of the material that precedes and follows it), but it suffers from landing so close to the more exhilarating and more colorful Madagascar chase. The Madagascar sequence keeps changing the game by varying the playing field throughout, continually changing tones and scenarios, while the Miami airport chase stays stuck in a steady rut for the bulk of its running time. It does not help matters that the primary foe Bond pursues in Miami, Carlos, lacks distinction. He’s a generic nobody introduced for and disposed during the sequence at hand, his only distinguishing feature being his use of a keychain bomb.

Bond’s confrontion with Dimitrios, which precedes the airport chase, plays stronger, by virtue of the nightmarish venue for that confrontation and because Bond and Dimitrios have an established rivalry. They meet in the midst of the controversial Body Worlds exhibition, in which preserved corpses, posed as though they were in the midst of real-life activity, become spectacle for the onlookers. The filmmakers stage the sequence around a tableau where three corpses play cards, foreshadowing the life-and-death card game of the film’s second half.

Old-school spycraft mingles with new-school spycraft as Dimitrios delivers equipment to the terrorist-for-hire, Carlos, via a bag check, notifying Carlos of the delivery via text message. After dispatching of Dimitrios, Bond cleverly identifies Carlos in a crowd with a phone call from Dimitrios’ phone. This improvisation on Bond’s part may be the only time where the film’s insistence on cell phones serving as a key story element doesn’t seem forced.

David Arnold’s over-the-top underscore only slightly weakens the considerable suspense as a knife wavers back and forth between Bond and Dimitrios (Arnold’s score throughout this entire Miami section opts for frantic cacophony). Bond wins the struggle through a mixture of smarts and brawn, and dispatches Dimitrios with the efficiency that has become his defining characteristic. The playful pat on the cheek Bond gives the deceased Dimitrios further underlines his tendency to gloat in victory; Bond’s addiction to being 007 is, at root, an addiction to winning, to outsmarting and humiliating his prey.

Bond tailing Carlos in the airport delivers the next significant “rookie Bond” moment. Bond gets sloppy in his attempt to surreptitiously observe his target, and Carlos splits. Given Bond’s prior scolding of Carter for being too obvious while surveilling Mollaka in Madagascar, this strikes me as a bit too amateurish to be credible.

“Ellipsis,” Bond discovers, is the Miami International security code, and Carlos is going to destroy a brand new (empty) airplane. Not the most satisfying of payoffs, admittedly–Bond is now put in the position of putting his life on the line to protect corporate assets–but it mostly works due to the way the sequence’s momentum kicks into gear once the pieces fall into place.

The individual stunts that comprise the chase across the tarmac impress, but the sequence does not do an especially strong job of building them into an actual narrative chain. The geography of the airport remains pretty murky throughout; we very rarely get a sense of just how close Carlos is to his target.

The sheer physicality of it all still gives this chase some urgency. By the end of the chase, Craig’s Bond has been so beat up that he’s lucky to be alive. Craig’s exasperated, befuddled look as he realizes he successfully stopped the attack nicely humanizes the character, as does the fact that his wounds remain visible in the next scene.

Bond’s chilling smirk as Carlos blows himself up points, once again, to his love of winning. In stopping Carlos, though, he’s backed a more intelligent adversary into a corner. The aftershocks of Le Chiffre’s forthcoming humiliation of Bond will reverberate throughout the entirety of the Craig era.

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