Sunday, 27 May 2007
Casino Royale (2006) dir. Martin Campbell
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judy Dench, Mads Mikkelsen
I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said already, but “Casino Royale” certainly is the badly needed shot in the arm for the Bond series. An ample dose of toughness, reality AND emotional investment has invigorated people’s interest in the now 45 year old character. After all, the suave, invincible action hero of the Bond series has now been trumped by the Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer new millennium hero. The Pierce Brosnan Bond was supposed to reboot from the lagging late Moore/Timothy Dalton films. And for a couple of films (“Goldeneye” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”) it was mildly interesting, but then the series devolved into the same comic-book trappings that plagued those other films. Will the Daniel Craig Bond devolve into double-entendre gags, silly gadgetry and ridiculous world-takeover plotting? Time will tell.
“Casino Royale” has the best opening of any Bond film by far. James Bond is still a fledgling MI6 agent. He’s infiltrated the home of a suspected traitor and he has his gun pointed to his head. The traitor doesn’t think he has the cojones to kill him. In a clever flashback sequence we see Bond’s very first kill as an agent – a rough and tumble fight in a bathroom. This is Bond’s initiation into the world of the double O’s.
The opening sequence sets the bar high for the rest of the film. The next major action sequence involves a wonderful chase of a terrorist through the streets of some African city. The terrorist has some neat parkour skills which allows him to leap and jump up walls and through windows with ease. Somehow Bond catches up to him though and kills him indiscriminately. This is Bond’s weakness – he’s a thug who can kill, but according to M he needs to see the big picture and “take his ego out of the picture”. One of the faults of the film is that beyond the cool action of these first two scenes, the rest of the film, technically, is a let down. Martin Campbell’s direction is adequate but uninspired.
Bond traces the perp to a higher level playing field involving a high stakes poker game, which if won by the international financier, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson) the money will go to fund more international terrorists. Bond is sent to play on behalf of MI6 and the CIA to stop Le Chiffre from winning the game. Therefore we now get to see Bond’s poker face and skills at reading people. But Le Chiffre is just a pawn in the “big picture” as there are more nefarious men behind the curtains whom we have yet to see.
Bond develops an attraction to the woman who has supplied James with the money to bet with at the game. Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) isn’t the “Bond-girl” type, she doesn’t chase down bad guys, nor pack any heat. She’s just there to see that Bond wins the game. But she’s also ridiculously gorgeous. Bond eventually falls deeply in love with her, and this becomes a major part of the story. Bond’s is so smitten he leaves the Secret Service altogether in hopes of starting a normal life. But a double cross quickly halts those plans.
By the end of the film Bond’s weaknesses and softness are gone. In the next installment he’ll likely be the hardened, callous, and unattached Bond we’ve all grown up with. Hopefully not. I hope the depth to his character will be more fully explored. The film doesn’t end with a neat wrap-up, as a sequel is set up nicely. A character whom we never meet is introduced late in the story as being key to the bigger picture. I think this is the only way to keep the series alive - to serialize the films into a trilogy or a group of trilogies. With the competition from “24”, “Bourne”, and the rash of recent “trilogies”, just a one-movie narrative just isn’t good enough. So I’m sure the next two Bond films will be fed from this first film.
“Casino Royale” received a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes last year – a remarkable achievement. But is “Casino Royale” that good a film on its own? No. I think the film has been received by audiences and critics in the context of the other Bond films. Indeed, it blows most of those other films out of the water, but as a film unto itself, I’ll take a couple episodes of “24”, or either of “The Bourne Identity” or “The Bourne Supremacy” any day. The producers succeeded in rebooting the Bond series and making it legit, but there still is much room for improvement. Good luck Bond. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Casino Royale (Two-Disc Widescreen Edition)