ironphoenix (ironphoenix) wrote,

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Casino Royale

Well, I saw Casino Royale over the weekend, and was surprised.

Bond (and the whole intel world) is much more realistically portrayed in this movie than in the recent ones with Brosnan. It's a hard, mean world filled with dangerous, cold people, and this movie Gets It. That also, however, makes it less of a "fun" movie, so I had to adjust my expectations. M's hard edges also showed through well, which was impressive: she also used to come through as a bit too soft to do that job before.

CR was Fleming's first book, and introduces James Bond. The movie follows that, dumping the whole previous era of the franchise out the window; it's a bit jarring, but one copes. Overall, I think it's a good strategy, given how different the flavor is. Given the two options of going back in time or moving the clock ahead 50 years, they chose the latter, and have Bond appear as a new "00" agent as of 2K6, in the post-Cold War, post-9-11 era. Everything else has to be similarly updated, of course, and I only have one beef with it. (Well, okay, only one serious beef: my other beef is that Q hasn't made his entrance into the storyline yet.)

I don't think I give too much away when I say that the book's finale centers around a Baccarat game, which the movie replaces with a Texas Hold 'Em game. It doesn't, in my opinion, translate well. The game is set up by Le Chiffre (which is a brilliantly-chosen name, btw, translating as both "the number" and "the cipher") to make money, and he is billed as an actuarial whiz1. The game goes on for a great length of time, with nobody eliminated in the first 4 hours of play, and 4 or 5 players remaining after a further number of hours' play. Texas Hold 'Em doesn't stand up to this, in my opinion, and here's why: Hold 'Em is actually a relatively easy game to calculate the odds on, and the margins on a hand are large. It's a relatively blunt instrument, and can be more readily swayed by luck. Furthermore, the nature of the game leads to a no-limit game between ten or so players ending within about 2-4 hours. Baccarat, on the other hand, is a game which appears on the surface to be a matter of pure luck: player decisions are minimal, and the difference between true probabilities and the bet payoffs are very small and hard to track since a shoe of 6 packs is used. That, however, is exactly where Le Chiffre shines: he can calculate the tiny shift in the probabilities due to the discards and adjust his play accordingly, much like a card-counter in Blackjack, where nobody else can. The difficulty is that exploiting this very slight bias requires a great deal of time, and is made easier in a "banked" game due to the control the Banker has over the betting scale. Baccarat is also a traditional game among the moneyed and cultured, while Hold 'Em is generally considered less high-class, particlarly in Europe, as I understand it. Frankly, the Hold 'Em game didn't do it for me in the context of the movie, even though I prefer to play it and not Baccarat.

Now I need to reread the novel, having read it ages ago in high school and forgotten much. Not the scene with the chair though: that one stays with you. If you've read it or seen it, you know the one; otherwise, it'll be clear to you when you do.

1: Gaming against an actuary is pretty intimidating. The top player at the Ottawa Scrabble Club is an actuary by profession, and it shows. He doesn't just have vocabulary, but knows how to project the likely value of the opportunities he opens with his plays. I've learned a few things playing against him.
Tags: games, poker, video
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