Casino Royale

Casino Royale

*****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

After 44 years and 20 movies, it seemed like the James Bond franchise was feeling more than a little worn. Although Pierce Brosnan wasn’t a bad Bond, the last few movies were increasingly disappointing and it looked as though the franchise had died another day. Four years since the last disaster and the production team behind 007 have returned with the aim of completely re-inventing the series and re-imagining the world’s most famous patron of espionage.

Casino Royale does for the super-spy what Christopher Nolan did for Batman to the extent that James Bond Begins would’ve been an appropriate title. Having completed his first two kills, Bond (Daniel Craig) graduates to the 00 Section and his first major assignment leads him to shady terrorist-banker, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). In order to stop Le Chiffre from regaining important terrorist money he has lost, M places Bond in a high-stakes poker match in Montenegro with the help of beautiful MI6 treasury official Vepser Lynd (Eva Green). Bond soon learns the hardships of his job, that nobody can be trusted and how taking a life is hard on the soul.

Copy picture

Thankfully, this back to basics move sees the production team succeed in spades (we’ll get to the poker later), and Casino Royale sits among the series’ best instalments as movie first and a ‘James Bond movie’ second. Interestingly, despite a familiar creative team, this is a completely different take, with a tougher and more human Bond taken back to grass roots level, wisely opting for a darker slice of reality rather than the pun-spouting caricature we’re used to.

The success of Casino Royale – and the franchise’s future – largely hinges on the casting of the newest Walter PPK-wielder. Though initially met with huge uproar and lots of unfair premature-panning (with one extreme naysayer even forming a website), Craig delivers the best Bond debut since Connery in Dr No with an assured performance. Giving the role some much-needed depth, Craig’s human Bond impressively makes us forget all those before him and gives us someone we can relate to. This Bond is naïve. This Bond is scared of what he’s becoming. This Bond makes Speedos look cool.

In addition, there are many other swerves away from the typical Bondian blueprint as there’s no Miss Moneypenny, no Q (although there is a man who may be Q) and no pervasive use of Monty Norman’s theme tune. Also, for the first time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, our hero forms a meaningful relationship, which – thanks to Craig and a subtly-effective score from David Arnold – adds an unexpected heartbreaking angle beyond the usual two-scene obligatory romance. While some will moan this realistic approach, we still get to see Bond earning his status, forming a drink habit and adopting his penchant for fitted tuxedos.

In support, Green is memorable as the woman who got Bond to lower his defences and has a great rapport with Craig, Jeffrey Wright is welcome as old-pal Felix Leiter and Giancarlo Giannini slots in nicely as the charming contact. As Le Chiffre, Mikellson deserves plaudits for his a villain, which is way above the normal cardboard cut-outs. No ice palaces here.

As far as the stunts go, things also improve. Aside from the overly-long chase sequence and airport section which could have fitted into the Brosnan years, the action is brutal, exciting and more credible than we’re used to (the stairwell fight and the first kill in particular). Unlike recent Bond atrocities, this 007 can be hurt, often does gets hurt and ends up in a nursing home after a car crash. Gone are the days where Moore or Brosnan would casually toss their slings aside.

In place of the usually ‘gigantic set-piece battle’ (read yawn-inducing explosion-fest) we have some poker to get our teeth into. While some have complained there’s too much (five hands, lasting a combined time of roughly 11 minutes by my count), they develop Bond’s rivalry with the villain and generate more tension that the culminating scenes from the last three movies combined. If I can suffer through invisible cars, you can handle a straight flush.

In summary, Casino Royale is a rare triumph. By focusing on the journey of how a spy becomes the Bond, James Bond we all know, the movie manages the impossible task of coping with all the baggage laid before it and reinvigorating our interest. Up until the thoroughly satisfying final reel (where THAT music and THOSE words are finally heard) we might not have the recognisable character, but as Chris Cornell’s storming title song suggests, we know his name. Welcome back 007, we’ve been expecting you.

Reviewed on: 29 Nov 2008
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Casino Royale packshot
James Bond earns his double zero status and relaxes at the poker table with a mass murderer.
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Read more Casino Royale reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ****
Chris ***

Director: Martin Campbell

Writer: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis, based on the novel by Iam Fleming

Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Isaach De Bankole, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic

Year: 2006

Runtime: 144 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US/UK/Czech Republic

Festivals:

CFF 2007

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