Monday, April 09, 2007

Casino Royale / The Good Shepherd

Casino Royale

Bond movies are kinda like Rajnikanth movies. They have their own rules and conventions and viewers who go to these movies expect - or even look forward to - these movies following these special rules. Casino Royale breaks these conventions but in a mostly good way. Going back to Bond's roots as a spy, it puts James Bond in a real action movie that showcases him more as a man than the superman we are used to seeing him as.

Casino Royale is a trademark Bond movie and has all the trademarks of a regular Bond movie - exotic locales, nice set pieces, high-octane stunts and a unique villain. There are not as many gadgets or women but its Bond himself who brings the most difference to the table. He is cold, brutal and almost heartless when it comes to the bad guys and is enough of a romantic to fall in love. This makes him different and interesting. He also gets more down and dirty than in any other Bond film and is at the receiving end of a particularly brutal form of torture.

It may be a new kind of Bond but we still have a history with him. So the best parts of the movie happen when we see a link to the Bond we know and love. I loved his answer to "Shaken or Stirred?" and the "Bond... James Bond" answer is so effective since we are really made to wait for it.

The film starts with a fantastic chase on foot that reminds one of the opening chase in District B13 (though here, it is the guy who Bond is chasing, who stuns us with his athleticism). There are not too many action sequences in the rest of the film with the bulk of the action taking place at the poker table but the movie doesn't slow down though. Where it does slow down in is the climax. It drags on for way too long with atleast two places where I thought the film had ended.

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd is a very good thriller. A cerebral spy thriller, it is at the other end of the spectrum when compared to action-heavy films like Casino Royale (and other Bond films) but is more involving and satisfying because of that.

The film starts of with the botched Bay of Pigs invasion that the US attempted in Cuba in 1961. Armed only with a single grainy photograph of a man and a woman in bed and and a recording of their conversation, EdwardWilson(Matt Damon) attempts to find out who in the CIA leaked information about the attack. As the CIA's technicians analyze the photograph, we learn about Edward's past - his days at Yale University, his marriage to Clover(Angelina Jolie), his days at the OSS in Berlin after the war and his initiation into the newly-formed CIA.

My American history is not too strong and so the historical aspect of the film didn't do much for me. But the movie still worked on a personal level. The transformation of Damon from the nice, fun(the first look we get at him is in drag at a college play!), romantic college guy to the serious, emotionally distant spy is portrayed well. He is not the nicest of people but most of his negatives come about because of his one trait - he puts country above everything(and everyone) else. The movie builds slowly but surely to the point where he is caught in a dilemma. The resolution of the dilemma is fully expected but still surprising.

It is in the present, when the technicians gather information from the photograph, that the movie comes close to being the kind of espionage thriller we are familiar with. The way they pick apart the photo is fascinating and the way they use the few identifiable items in the picture to track down the people in it is superb and gives us an idea of the painstaking work it requires.

This is a film where the storytelling technique embellishes the underlying story. The movie proceeds in 2 tracks - one in the present where the photograph is being analyzed and one where we learn about Damon's past. The two dovetail wonderfully at the end, catching us by surprise. It is doubtful if the exact same story told in a linear way would have had the same emotional impact.


At 1:01 AM, Blogger KayKay said...

Loved Casino Royale! My own take on it can be read here:

Will check out The Good Shepherd. There's also a movie called The Good German. If screened on a double bill, would they collectively be called The Good German Shepherd I wonder?

At 3:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, BB, I have been away for the last week, and I wasn't able to post. So regarding one of last week's topics titled, 'Perundhil Nee Enakku', I say check out a song from 'THIRUMAGAN' titled 'THATTI THATTI' sung by Naresh Iyer and Madhushree. Surprise! What a joyful number in a film like that.

At 7:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did'nt like Casino Royale all that much. They took the fun out of a Bond movie and made it like a Bourne Identity kind of movie, hard, gritty and all that. If you want to turn it into something serious and gritty, no thanks I can watch the Bourne series or even the MI series.Especially the tortune scene at the end of the movie was ridiculous. This doesnt fare high on my list

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to watch "The Good Shepherd." was busy at the time the movie was released in theatres...but yeah, my favs, Robert De Niro, Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie! :-) btw, how come you havent mentioned anything abt the actors in "Casino Royale" or "T G S?"

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

kaykay, wasn't as strong on 'casino royale'. i'd say i liked it. will wait for ur take on 'good shepherd' :)

srivatsan, 'shots' as in cinematography? thats much pretty much a given in any bond movie cos of the nice locales and so it probably didn't stick in my mind :)

vijay, i liked the fact that it was harder and grittier since i felt the last few movies were really silly. almost cartoons. but i agree they needn't have gone this far in that direction :)

ram, yep great cast. performance-wise, they were solid as expected but no one stood out. so didn't have anything special to write about the cast.

skanda, i kinda wrote a li'l bit about 'Don' in the post on 'Billa-2007'. saw 'lage raho munnabhai' was wasn't too impressed. haven't seen 'guru' yet.

unlike tamil movies, reviewing hindi and english(and malayalam and telugu!) movies depends on my free time. so unless i write about them right after i watch them, i skip writing about them at all. so i have seen many english and hindi movies that i never wrote about :)

At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 8:23 AM, Blogger Diamond and Pearl said...

Hello Balaji -

You write very interesting reviews. Wondering whether you would interested in doing a weekly show on our online radio reviewing movies. Please let me know.


At 6:49 AM, Blogger Kumari said...

I haven't watched Casino Royale but I did see 'LayerCake', a British Movie. Pretty slick movie and Daniel Craig is his handsomest self in it :p Spent the eve googling for his pics much to the chagrin of the hubby :)
If you get to watch it, do so. It's quite good.

And he was good in Munich too, which is a really good movie.

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved Casino Royale too. Bond is back baby!


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