Casino Royale (2006)

James Bond film #21 (Daniel Craig Bond)

Casino Royale (2006)

Every actor to play James Bond brings their own style to the character and, subsequently, their films. Sean Connery was rugged and brash; he was always game for the ladies or to crack a one-liner, but he was more apt to shoot from the hip and judo chop his way to the heart of SPECTRE’s nefarious plots. His films were classic Cold War espionage adventures that established the tropes of the series. George Lazenby’s Bond was more of a softie, falling in love and getting married, and his solo outing included instances of romance to accommodate that new side of Bond.

Roger Moore’s Bond was a man of mass seduction and corny jokes. His movies had some of the best action sequences of the classic era, but they’re better remembered for how outrageous the adventures became, launching Bond into space and having him infiltrate traveling circuses. Timothy Dalton brought a no-nonsense mean streak to Bond, and his rampages were featured in much darker and more serious films in the late ’80s. Finally, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was a cocky and super suave jokester, basically winking at the camera while everything around him exploded during his high-tech and self-aware tenure.

2006’s Casino Royale (21) introduces the sixth actor to portray James Bond, Daniel Craig. Craig looks nothing like his predecessors . He’s blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and while he’s undeniably an attractive man, his looks seem more suited for a classic Bond villain than 007 himself. More importantly, Craig’s Bond is a drastically different person than all those that came before him. He’s still a lady killer and an ass kicker, but he brings a depth to the character previously unimaginable, showing that for all his extraordinary talent, James Bond is still a human being.

Casino Royale is unique among the Eon canon in that it’s a hard reboot for the series. Its pre-credit sequence shows us Bond’s first mission as a double-0 agent (meaning he has a license to kill), shot in crisp black-and-white by Goldeneye (17) director Martin Campbell (alongside that film’s cinematographer, Phil Meheux). Throughout Casino, we get to see Bond become the man we’ve watched for 45 years now, all the way down to his first well-tailored tux.

This novice Bond is a very human character, a far cry from the superhero played by Brosnan in Die Another Day (20). Craig’s Bond is rash and short-tempered, often making bad judgment calls because of his inexperience. His solution to being captured is to shoot his unarmed victim and blow up an embassy in Madagascar. An hour later, he still hasn’t learned to keep his cool, impulsively picking up a dinner knife to kill main villain LeChiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) before our old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) can intervene and set him straight. He makes a bad call during his poker game. He bleeds and has to wash his wounds after an intense stairwell fist fight. It’s surprising to see such a vulnerable Bond after he’s been more or less invincible for so long.

Even more surprising is how much of Bond’s background we pick up. For so long he’s just been an agent in a suit, apparently born with a pistol in his hand and a bowtie around his neck. Now we get the suggestion that he’s an orphan, and the story involving Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) provides a reason behind his callous womanizing that will surely come in future installments. The love and tragic ending of Bond and Lynd’s relationship is much more emotional than his brief marriage with Teresa di Vicenzo (which was, before Casino, the most emotional moment in the Bond series).

Casino Royale (21) is also a beautiful film to watch. Campbell and Meheux don’t let the ultra-realism restrict their filmmaking, giving us plenty of stylized scenes that make Casino more like a quality action movie than just another Bond flick. After LeChiffre has him poisoned, Bond stumbles into the bathroom, the colors and clarity of the scene washed out like his senses. The black-and-white opening is like something out of a noir detective film, and the fight scenes – faster-paced and with harder impacts than ever – are shot in novel, exciting ways that never obfuscate the action.

While The Living Daylights (15) saw Dalton attempt to take the series in a new direction, it was ripped apart by the tension between the lead actor and the filmmakers guiding him. Casino Royale (21) is nothing like that, featuring a cohesiveness where everyone involved seems on board with the turnaround in style and tone. Because of this confidence, the movie isn’t as volatile as the Brosnan era, taking its time to build up story and characters instead of just blasting away with relentless action scenes. Even the one-liners fall in line, more dry and intelligent than cheeky and obvious. After a particularly probing conversation with Vesper, she asks Bond how his lamb is. He responds, “Skewered. One sympathizes.” That is quality dialogue.

The Bond films have finally grown up. GoldenEye (17) brought modernity to the series, but Casino Royale (21) brings maturity to it. This is an amazing film in every single way. There’s a smart balance of simple story and kick-ass action scenes, it’s shot beautifully, and Daniel Craig brings a brand new intensity to the classic character of James Bond. From the parkour chase at the construction site to the most brutal torture any man’s ever endured, Casino Royale is exciting, memorable, and intelligent. I have no problem saying that Daniel Craig is the best James Bond, and that Casino Royale (21) is the best Bond film.

Final rating: 9/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • Judi Dench returns as M, but Q and Moneypenny are nowhere to be seen. M is still stern and short (physically and temperamentally), but, just like Bond, we get to see more of her personal life than we’ve ever seen before, watching her get woken up at night to take a call. Looks like she’s married. Lucky guy.
  • Daniel Kleinman does the opening credits again, an awesome sequence based on card suits. An equally cool song by Chris Cornell accompanies it, “You Know My Name”. We certainly do – the very last line of the film is the iconic “Bond. James Bond.”
  • Moneypenny DOES get a shout-out via wordplay when Vesper meets Bond. She tells him, “I’m the money.” He quips back, “Every penny of it.”
  • I really enjoyed Giancarlo Giannini as René Mathis, Bond’s contact in Montenegro. He reminded me a lot of Aristotle Kristatos from For Your Eyes Only (12).
  • The most high-tech gadget we get in this movie is a glove compartment full of guns. Looks like they had to detox a bit after that invisible car business.
  • Another big contrast to the Brosnan movies: An explosion actually happens offscreen, the camera focused on Bond’s face instead of the fiery fury consuming a villain’s body.
  • As a poker aficionado, that big hand that Bond won with a straight flush is the stuff of legend. If it ever happened to me, I’d probably still be telling people about it. Which is a shame, since nobody ever cares about your awesome poker hands from past games.
Bond Girl Fate

Vesper Lynd

(Eva Green)

Main Bond Girl:Bond’s treasurer during his card-playing mission and eventually the love of his life. She saves his life a number of times, and after defeating LeChiffre, he resigns from MI6 to be with her. Shortly after his resignation, he finds out that she’s double-crossed him. She ends up essentially killing herself out of guilt toward Bond, locking herself in a sinking elevator.

Solange Dimitrios

(Caterina Murino)

Kind-of Almost Bond Girl:The wife of a man that Bond is surveilling, she aims to make a cuckold out of her husband with Bond, but he leaves her in his hotel room to go kill her husband before they ever bang. Ends up getting killed for her troubles.

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One response

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    June 23, 2015 at 4:54 am

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