' ' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Forgotten Great Moments in Movie History

There’s a great line in John McNaughton’s under-appreciated “Mad Dog and Glory” (1993) when the Chicago cop, Wayne (Robert DeNiro), goes to see the stand-up comedy set of crime boss Frank (Bill Murray). Afterwards, Frank asks Wayne what he thought. “I heard two Buddy Hackett jokes, a Pat Cooper and a half a Lenny Bruce,” Wayne says. That’s sort of how I think about the Daniel Craig James Bond movies; you’ve got two Christopher Nolan movies (“Casino Royale”, “Skyfall”), a Paul Greengrass (“Quantum of Solace”) and half a Marvel (“Spectre”). I say half a Marvel movie because I assume the last Daniel Craig entry in the series, the forthcoming “No Time To Die”, will be the other half. It’s not that movies can’t have influences, of course, because most of them do. No, it’s how they use those influences, whether they merely duplicate them or expand them upon them, utilizing them to help find their own groove. Bond movies have always been about comfort, adhering to a similar formula but, in the best incarnations, adding distinct flourishes. It’s hard to feel comfortable, though, when you’re just lurching around, trying to glom onto whatever style is fashionable at the moment, hoping to remain relevant. And yet.

I will admit to having come around on the back-to-basics “Casino Royale”, a movie I did not like initially, probably because I was younger and stupider and entered that movie with preconceived expectations. When those expectations were not met, I felt let down. On its own wavelength, more brutal and more soulful than its predecessors, it works. Where it really works, though, is with its 007. In essence, every 007 is a like cat that lands on its feet, but those landings are generally taken for granted. You never exactly feel genuine danger when Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan get themselves into a pickle, never mind Roger Moore, who sometimes looks like he expects his stunt double to take over for him in the non-stunt scenes. Even Timothy Dalton, who emitted a vibe closest to Craig, had an it’s-all-cool smirk. Craig has a smirk too, but it’s on a different frequency, like a pirate, to quote the esteemed Charlie Pierce, who enjoys his work. And when his Bond jumps, he doesn’t necessarily seem to know he’s going to land on his feet, infused with some of that mania Johnny Utah had when he leapt from the plane parachute-less in “Point Break”, giving the stunts in “Casino Royale” not just an unexpected verisimilitude but aggression. Even in downtime, Craig is not exactly laid-back.

My favorite scene occurs right after Bond has been poisoned during the big card game, barely made it to his Aston Martin, injected himself with Lidocaine, and then, after passing out while trying to defibrillate himself, is saved by the requisite Bond Girl, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), who administers the shock for him just in the nick of time. Bond quickly suits back up, returns to the card game, and wins a hand. “You know,” he says to Vesper, “I think a celebration’s in order.” “You were almost dead an hour ago,” Vesper points out. “Come on,” he says taking her hand. “I’m famished.”

There is something about Craig in the ensuing scene, something that has stayed with me longer than any of his others moments as Bond, something in his behavior, something subtle but huge. That moment before, having just survived a brush with death, would normally be forgotten about as soon as it’s happened in these movies, smirked off. But here, in the low lighting of a late night dinner, it lingers in the air, not just in the conversation but the way Bond behaves, in the way Craig has Bond behave, echoed in that undone collar, a little less fussy than usual. He eats the food with relish; he drinks the martini. Every James Bond, in one way or another, is an epicurean; this James Bond is happy to be alive.

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