2006Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen
all it the “reboot” syndrome. It’s simple: take your ailing, but internationally-known brand (Superman, Batman), handcuff a well-regarded director and serious actors to a three-picture contract, and release on a holiday weekend to critical applause and handsome profits. Which is why Casino Royale, the relaunching of the James Bond franchise, is so surprising. This isn’t the formula at all: the director is Martin Campbell, who directed the last decent Bond film (Goldeneye in 1995), but one with a spotty resume elsewhere (including the nonsensical Vertical Limit and the drearily preachy Beyond Borders). The writers (along with prestige script-polisher Paul Haggis, he of the Oscar-winning but similarly drearily preachy Crash) are Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who wrote the previous two Bond installments, both of which were abysmal. Finally, the new Bond is the fair-haired, rough-edged Daniel Craig, whose casting caused considerable consternation across the internet in 2004.
But you know what? Casino Royale delivers handsomely—and especially welcome in a year that has been weak on genuinely exciting, enjoyable popcorn flicks. Although Campbell’s competent direction and a solid script shouldn’t be ignored, the success of the film is really down to two people: Ian Fleming and Daniel Craig. The writers were smart to stick to the core ethos of Fleming’s novel of the same name: that is, portraying Bond as a “blunt instrument,” a hired killer who has little need for ridiculous gadgets and fey, debonair banter (here, when a bartender asks him if he’d like his martini shaken or stirred, Bond snarls “do I look like I give a damn?”). As for Craig, he’s nothing short of a perfect fit. Built like an SUV and sporting a chilly, dispassionate gaze, he’s the first Bond I’ve found genuinely intimidating. Despite Craig’s mighty physique, Campbell wisely makes sure to distance this Bond from the ridiculous stunts of his predecessors. In the first two scenes, we find him messily slaying someone in a bathroom and then (in the film’s most impressive sequence) shambolically crashing and tumbling around a building site in Madagascar as he gives chase to an acrobatic terrorist.
As opposed to most of his predecessors, Craig is an actor with a notable resume and demonstrated range—could you really see Roger Moore playing Perry Smith, Ted Hughes, or Francis Bacon’s lover? However, his achievement here is not a revelation, given that he turned in a distinctly Bondian performance in the silly but compelling Britflick Layer Cake two years ago. He improves upon that here, impressively investing the audience’s feelings in a character who is rather grim and morally questionable, a fact Casino Royale seems quite willing to acknowledge.
He is ably matched by Eva Green (the sultry, curvy French siren of The Dreamers) as Vesper Lynd, Bond’s accountant for the high-stakes poker game that is central to the film. Quickly proving that she is Bond’s match (if not superior) intellectually and emotionally, they have an enjoyably spiky flirtation that evolves into a surprisingly believable romance which threatens to develop Bond’s character. It’s a risky move that pays off due to Craig and Green’s sparkling chemistry.
Other risky moves prove slightly more troublesome. Casino Royale takes a good hour to get to the titular location and its chief villain, the evil financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, who is suitably menacing without getting too ridiculous). Although this hour is punctuated by three excellent action sequences, once Bond and Le Chiffre face off in the high-stakes poker game that is the crux of the story, the film drifts into a slightly more cerebral realm from which it never really emerges, despite an action-packed climax in Venice that ends up feeling slightly tacked-on. At nearly two and a half hours, this is apparently the longest Bond film ever, and it definitely feels like it—some trimming in the midsection (especially the aimless Bahamas segment) would have been helpful.
Really, though, this is quibbling for the sake of quibbling. Casino Royale is no work of art, but it’s an impressive piece of entertainment that gives credibility to a cinematic figure who was in real danger of becoming a total laughingstock. During the already-notorious torture scene, where Le Chiffre whacks our hero in sensitive places with a length of rope, I honestly had to remind myself I was watching a James Bond movie. After the ice-palace, space-laser, invisible-car nonsense of 2002’s Die Another Day, Casino Royale is truly refreshing. Here is a Bond film that can embrace the cool, grim, brutal secret agent trend that the Bourne movies revived, while also sticking to its hard-edged, tuxedo-clad, unapologetically old-fashioned approach. In Casino Royale’s closing scene, we see Craig standing triumphant above a felled villain, machine-gun in one hand, clad in an immaculately tailored suit. It’s an oddly soothing sight.
Casino Royale is currently playing in wide release.
By: David Sims
Published on: 2006-12-04