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Film analysis of Casino Royale

This is one of the first essays I did on film analysis. I wrote it in my free time, after developing an interest in audience interaction with Media texts during my Media AS course. It is more expanded than my current writing style, as over the AS-level period I have devloped my writting to be more concise.

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Film analysis of Casino Royale

How far does the cinematography, narrative and representations of characters meet the expectations of a contemporary audience?

Over a period of time, specific audiences construct expectations of different types of media, related to either what they have been told, or perhaps what the media have exposed them to in the past. Indeed, it could be argued that the success of a film to a large degree, rests on whether or not such expectations are met, surpassed, else the audience successfully surprised. Certainly, such expectations have to be addressed by the film, if it is to be considered satisfying for the audience, and in this way, elements within the film, such as character representations, the narrative and cinematography are all important components which allow this to be achieved. Additionally, the social and political context in which the film is being viewed must be considered, as it is against this background that their expectations will have been formed. 

Most often, it is the genre of a film that initially attracts the audience. Genre classifies all types of media into identifiable categories, according to their shared elements and with the categorisation of its genre, comes certain expectations. Casino Royale presents the audience with an action, adventure and thriller and therefore crosses the boundaries of several genres. By knowing the genre of Casino Royale, the public can assume to what extent they may enjoy the film. Casino Royale appears to be aimed at both males and females as it includes various elements of action and romance. It is also clear that the film would be specifically for teenagers upwards as there are phases in the film which would be difficult for anyone younger to appreciate.

The narrative within Casino Royale centres around the theme of terrorism, and a contemporary audience would most certainly expect this to be addressed. At the time of its release, there was great public awareness and fear, following the infamous attacks on the World Trade Centre and twin towers in New York in 2001 and more recently the 7/11 bombings in London in 2005. Such attacks, believed to be as direct results of the foreign policies of both Great Britain and the USA, resulted in unprecedented implications within the media.

Casino Royale follows a linear narrative and is portrayed in a naturalistic style, although there are flashback scenes at the beginning of the film. Todorov produced a structure which implies that all films have an equilibrium, disruption, recognition of disruption, attempt to repair disruption and reinstatement of equilibrium. Although Casino Royale has significant elements of this narrative structure it only fits to a certain extent as there are sections within the film which do not correspond to this structure. For example, the use of flash backs at the beginning of the film when Bond is enduring his first kill and achieves double 0 status and the unexpected twist at the end of the film. The use of these unforeseen elements within the film, contributes to a more charismatic film to watch, undeniably confusing them with the twists within the narrative, but also providing the target audience with the exuberance which they expect from a film of this genre. 

The perspective given to the audience viewing Casino Royale is also what they would expect for this genre of film, as they generally adopt the ‘privileged spectator position’, where they can see everything that happens within the film, even when the characters cannot. There are areas within the film, however, where this is not apparent and the audience is then viewing from ‘a point of view experience’. For example, when Bond is being tortured near the end of the film, we hear screams of Vesper in the other room, yet are not allowed to see what is happening to her. This causes suspense and anticipation for the audience, a technique which Martin Campbell, the director is known for.

The story of Casino Royale is portrayed successfully due to the accuracy of Mise-en-Scene. Although the settings within the film vary enormously, each one has been formed to create a believable world. Campbell includes sub titles at the beginning of each change of country. This device successfully maintains fast-paced scene changes without the need to develop each country portrayal, in order to communicate the setting to the audience. In Mbale, Uganda, where Le Chief is first introduced to the viewers dressed in a black suit, pathetic fallacy is used to highlight the pessimism of the scene. The rain is an introduction into the exchange about to be made between Le Chief and the rag-tag gang of men. The men here are black, and are portrayed to be the belittled by Le Chief. There are young boys playing with guns in the street, giving the appearance of an extremely undeveloped country.
In Madagascar, a similar cultural representation is evident. For example, when Bond is chasing the bomber, the scene is successfully created for the audience, with the realisation of the social and economic development in this country. It has been created to appear as a less developed country, with stampedes of roaring men dressed in pitiable clothing, taking part in undeveloped social and cultural activities, such as watching animal fights. They move boisterously, and speak with undue cause.

This mise-en-scene is effectively juxtaposed with the sincerity of the Double O headquarters in the UK. The building is exposed to the audience after a jump cut transition, causing the Houses of Parliament to look dramatically imposing. The characters are clothed to accentuate their power and the further progressed society, modelling smart black suits. The stark contrast between these two places is significant and would certainly be expected by the contemporary audience as most would assume the western world to be far more economically, culturally and socially developed.

Character portrayal throughout films is extremely important within today’s opinionated society, as if the roles are presented as too stereotypical; it is predictable that controversy would occur. Casino Royale appears to have considered this and adapted the roles of the characters to fit in with the expectations of today’s society, thus satisfying the target audiences contemporary norms and values.
Propp’s theory, initially trailed in1928, is one of suggestion that within a film there are specific character types and these have main objectives throughout the film. The most important character types are Hero, Heroine, Villain, Donor and Helper(s).
Beside the fact that Propp’s theory was developed so long ago, it is clear to see that it still fits reasonably well into the characterisations throughout many contemporary films such as Casino Royale, but much like Todorov’s structural theory, they only fit to a certain extent. It is clear, connotations are able to be made of this theory, and it is obvious that these characters perhaps are more developed or have multi-roles within films now, rather than being segregated into categories.

For example, Bond, the Hero of the story is presented as courageous and fearless and his main objective within the film is to stop trade between the terrorist businesses. However, this is juxtaposed with the excessive killing he participates in along the way- ironically not the actions of a hero. Moreover, the typical hero in a film would not typically reveal any weaknesses, yet throughout the torture scene, Bond is portrayed as a weak character to Le Chief (the villain). He is positioned in the camera shots on the left- the weaker side- and Le Chief is portrayed on the right. Without realising it, the audience are cognitively recognising bonds of disadvantage. In addition, Bond is also taken advantage of when he gets poisoned during the poker game, which adds a vulnerability to his character.

Also within this Bond film, the role of the Heroine is unclear, as there are two significant women, Solange, the Femme Fatale and wife of Dimitros, and then Vesper. These two women are significantly different too. Solange plays the seductive yet disposable, almost traditional woman’s role, wearing suggestive clothing and make-up. She speaks in a foreign language which sounds mysterious and intriguing, in contrast to ‘proper English’ that would be spoken by more respectable women.
She is used by Bond as a tool for information; much like Vesper is used as a tool during the poker game when she is required to dress seductively to provoke sexual thoughts within the males’ minds. 

Yet Vesper is initially portrayed as a keen business woman, made to look tough externally, with dark eyes and red lips, hair slicked back off her face- giving a hard and imposing vision. As the film progresses, she does show a softer, more natural side of her character after the torture scene and where the new equilibrium appears to be established.  Although visibly, this other side of Vesper is maintained until the end of the film, her true intentions have to be questioned again later, when she double-crosses Bond. In this way, the expectations of the audience are played with throughout the film, as there is always uncertainty surrounding the character of Vesper.

M is a key character who is analogous to Vesper and speaks in such a way. Initially her role as the boss of Bond was played by a man, but in this film Campbell has chosen to use a tough female instead. She is dressed wearing formal suits, and natural faced, almost extending her masculine role. By M being the boss of Bond, there appears to be almost a mother and child relationship between the two which is ironic in comparison with older films, as this would usually be the other way around.
The use of such visual codes and iconography surrounding the portrayals of M and Vesper, both women from the western world, could also be said to highlight the loss of gender discrimination towards women, and the rise in feminism, with women taking on more masculine roles in our society. By contrast, it could be seen that Solange is used so the audience can contrast Britain’s realisation of women within society with the men’s chauvinistic qualities towards them in other regions of the world. This is a crucial aspect in fulfilling the expectations of a modern day audience, as women would feel offended to see only recognition of the Femme Fatale within the film, only portrayed as the helpless woman. By including contrasting portrayals of women within the story, women then become better considered within the target audience, and it will have far greater appeal.

The way in which different ethnicities are portrayed within the film both meets and challenges expectations of the audience. Initially the men in Uganda provide the stereotypical black man villains, causing trouble, and also in Madagascar, Bond is chasing somebody of a similar ethnicity. However, if the film had only portrayed ethnic minorities in the UK in this negative light, it is obvious that many would find this offensive and could argue that it does not accurately reflect this section of our society. Therefore, Campbell has cleverly contradicted this stereotype at the poker game, when Bond has lost all his poker chips and he is acquainted to a black member of the CIA. He is working along a similar aim of Bond and some of his chips as he feels Bond has a better chance of defeating Le Chief. The use of this character causes previous portrayals of the ethnic characters to be less significant, as it is made clear by this character that ethnicity is not important in the character representation, and that the reason for the choice of the negative portrayal of the black people in Uganda and Madagascar are purely for the reason that in these countries they form the majority of the public.

As well as mise-en-scene, there are other contributing aspects which allow the characters to be portrayed in required ways. Casino Royale consists of a variety of camera shots, angles, movements and transitions. Most commonly, Campbell has used a significant amount of long shots during action scenes, for example,. in Madagascar. This allows the audience to get a full appreciation for the event, perhaps highlighting danger. In the Madagascar chase scene above all, this technique is used to cause audience positive reception of the death-defying stunts. The scene is also highlighted by the use of fly over- whip-pans, as these too accentuate the severity of the fight.  The use of high angle shots here, result in the audience feeling superior and the actors seem vulnerable, which is vital within this scene. The speed of the pans keeps the dynamism apparent within the scene, keeping the audience on the edge of the seats. During many of the chase scenes, including in Madagascar and the car chase nearer the end of the film, tracking and track through solid is used a great deal. The uses of these motions allow the viewer to almost see from the follower’s perspective, but without the shaky camera work, allowing the chase to be witnessed clearly.  Also creating a rapid atmosphere throughout these scenes is the use of jump cut transitions. These allow the pace of the film to be sustained, changing from one scene to the other quickly. At the moment when Bond gets poisoned, the camera adopts a shaky style of camera work, to intensify the realisation of Bonds point of view, even though a spectator shot is maintained.

During intense moments where there is significant atmosphere or conflict between characters, close ups and extreme close ups are effective. At the beginning of the film, opening in Prague, close ups appear here to accentuate the uncomfortable situation between the characters and is a necessity as the use of the humour between the characters needs to be supported by their non verbal communication, both of the characters adopting a sinister facial expression. During the casino game, extreme close ups are most frequent, as they highlight the intensity of the situation, primarily between Bond and Le Chief. When the extreme close up is apparent both characters often address the camera by looking directly at it, creating a sense of intimidation within the audience.  During the casino scene, Insert shots are also used, magnifying the cards and the chips. This is important within this scene as it is not the characters that are significant, it is the cards on the table and the vast amounts of money being played with. Inset shots are also used during the first scene in Prague, when the camera focus’s on the gun, highlighting its significant presence. This shot type is also used when enigma codes are presented for example text messages, which appears to be a motif within the film for contact or hidden messages. This is ideal for a contemporary audience as it is realistic of modern day society. 

Similarly, sound bridges are used. When Bond goes back to the hotel room after he has killed the men on the stairs, the audience is provided with the audio aspect of what’s to come but is somewhat lacking the visual evidence. We can here the sound of running water, and an insert shot focuses on a broken wine class, creating audience anticipation. Also, during the torture scene when Le Chief and Bond here the gun shots in the other room and the footsteps, it creates tension and anxiety for the matter. During the torture scene, the lighting is used in an interesting way, setting the scene and creating unease for the up coming events. They lighting is extremely gloomy, which suggests the severity of the scene which is especially noticeable as throughout most of the rest of the film the lighting is bright, which allows viewing of the action to be clear. The only other scene within the film which adopts a similar dull colour pallet is the flash back at the beginning and the killing in Prague. This is significant as it causes the appearance of it in the torture scene to provoke thoughts that perhaps this is used when a premeditated killing occurs, which is later proved to be true when Le Chief is shot dead. This scene uses only diagetic sound, which to create trepidation in a way that soundtracks cannot, silence. The way in which the only sounds heard are Vespers screams, Le chiefs condescending speech and Bonds screams highlights the pain and significance of the actions. This allows the audience to feel emotive towards to scene and become fully emerged in the characters experience, which could be seen as a vital aspect of a film of this genre, as often the viewer gets the opportunity to adopt a ‘first hand witness’ of the events. This technique is used at the casino game where there is close variance between the poker players.

It is this which above all, is what an audience expects from a film of this genre.
Throughout the rest of the film, non diegetic music is often played over the drama to set the scenes and create atmosphere. During the first chase in Madagasca a fast paced track is apparent as it creates more urgency about the chase. This is created by orchestral music, which is often used to build tension and pace. 

Casino Royale provides exhilarating and death defying stunts, as well as sustaining a solid narrative throughout. It is clear that this James Bond film has many aspects expected of an action thriller, but it appears that it offers something more that the typical film of this genre, as it includes many subjects related to real life and contemporary socialism. Overall, it appears that Casino Royale successfully meets audience expectations by incorporating familiar character portrayals, but with a more in depth disposition. From the very opening of the film when the music is playing over the credits, even the song gives the impression that this film is going to be much like other bond films with the use of “You know my name”. This can be interpreted also, that in fact, the audience do not know Daniel Craig’s name so gives the impression he will be bringing a new leash of life into the series of films. Also the lyrics are written in the first and second person which is reflected in the lyrics addressing the listener. Much like the cinematography within the film, this is another aspect which created audience fulfilment in being involved in the excitement of bonds experiences.
Throughout the song it has a thematic style based around death and betrayal, typical characteristics of a bond film, thus giving the audience the impression that it will follow similarly to them.


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