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Film An above average documentary about the theme music of the James Bond franchise inadvertently revealed a quirk that to a degree is also pretty revealing of the process of making actual films themselves. Time and again its revealed that in an effort to innovate quite alternate musicians and singers would be hired to produce the credit song, a prime example being Alice Cooper for The Man With The Golden Gun (with backing vocals for Lisa Minelli) only to be replaced at the last moment with Lulu, something far more traditional and in-keeping with the expected. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that latterly they even imagined Eric Serra would be perfect for GoldenEye (presumably on the basis of his score for Luc Besson's Nikita). The result was crazy and experimental and he too was replaced with a traditionalist.

This kind of thinking seems to be at the roots of Casino Royale, which is supposed to reboot the franchise once again, taking it into a grittier, far more realistic direction, overlaid with a style which is truer to author Ian Fleming than later films, particularly in the Brosnan era. This is certainly apparent in the opening scene, which, in black and white reveals how Bond received his 007 designation. Its gritty and grainy and violent and like nothing we've seen before - then it plunges into the familiar shot through the slight of a gun and the traditional title sequence which looks like everything we've seen before (echoes of BBC's Hustle) the only different being that its Daniel Craig posing instead of some comely lady. The worship of his new buffed up body continues throughout the film as he appears naked or half naked, no doubt as a way of redressing the balance for female viewers after years of bikini babes.

The problem is that whenever the film looks to be dumping the girls, guns and gadgets in favour of something that the producers clearly want to be a Jason Bourne botherer, it pulls back and drops in something that wouldn't have been out of place in a Roger Moore epic. Original rumours suggested a straight adaptation of the novel, period details intact, but as time went on it became apparent that actually the story would be bent around something in the region of 'I Can't Believe It's Not James Bond', set in the present day (at one point a vital clue is clearly marked 06 July 2006), with the camp factor reduced. Like the old movies, but not quite. Unlike Superman Returns which strained to fit in as many of the old icons as possible, this jettisons Moneypenny, Q and Smersh. But M's still there (Judi Dench's performance being one of the highlights) as is the Aston Martin, the Martini and the expected lines of dialogue. There's also an appearance by a familiar character in an unfamiliar way which film fans might be able to spot a mile off if their thinking laterally during the credits.

The Bond figure himself is supposed to be the great update and its been suggested that this is the Batman Begins of a new series, the film which shows how Bond became the man we recognize. This is a clearly hinted at in David Arnold's score which slowly forms into the familiar Monty Norman theme over the running time of the film. It's a pity then that Bond is even more of a closed shop than ever before. Although a quirk has always been that his motivations and thought processes are generally obscured, here it damages the film. You're supposed to be sympathetic to his aims because of who he is and who he works for but because his goals are obscured even in the closing hour (which tries to inject something for him to care about) his motivation seems to be based upon the premise that he's slightly pissed off that nothing goes the way he planned. Daniel Craig is as good an actor as the franchise has seen - when Bond is hit it obviously hurts and he's closer to the Fleming Bond than any of the others. There are some great moments of sensitivity and he has masses of charisma - but in general his performance is propping up the material and frequently he is creating the character's dimensions rather than the script. When Bond makes a particular life choice later in the film, because he's been so blank up until then it feels unconvincing or a ruse and not be character development its clearly meant to be.

On the positive side, some of the the action sequences, particular in the first half are breathtaking, a chase across rooftops and in an airport are as good as anything that might grace the climax of any other action film. The inevitable trip to Casino Royale is the fitting centerpiece, the battle of wills between Bond and apparent villain Le Chiffre (the serpentine Mads Mikkelsen) over the poker table (a replacement for the more complicated Baccarat in the novel) producing some excellent moments, particularly for Craig who seems more comfortable in these sections when he gets to be the badass in the suit we've seen elsewhere. Ravishing Eva Green's Vesper Lynd is one of the elements that the adaptation gets right, edgy and beautiful, once again demonstrates her budding star power, and actually some of the humour that really works is in the screwball moments between her and Craig. She's the Bond girl I'd always imagined they should be.

But what's left of the story from the novel is episodic and threadbare. It's often hard to follow what Bond's mission actually is, and the sudden introduction of 9/11 and the threat of international terrorism notwithstanding, doesn't seem to amount to much more than chasing people around bomb makers around the globe and attempting to win some money from their master. It's extraordinarily difficult to care and the attempt to integrate the Bondian elements into a realistic geopolitical setting never quite works. One argument is that Bond has never been about the story, but because of all of the choices made in the name of modernisation, for this to be a successful reinterpretation, it really should be. In refocusing the plot of the novel (which is all about the gambling) to accommodate so many action sequences at the expense of characterization and exposition, the climax feels strangely airless. This is a very long film considering the genre and material and there simply isn't enough story to cover the time - the main plot climaxes and then there's what amounts to an epilogue that lasts around half an hour which does little but weaken the overall experience when it should (as in the novel) be heartbreaking. Disappointing.

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