Bond-ed for Life ~ Casino Royale (2006)

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: In his first mission, James Bond must stop Le Chiffre, a banker to the world’s terrorist organizations, from winning a high-stakes poker tournament at Casino Royale in Montenegro.

Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright

Director: Martin Campbell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 144 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:

After Die Another Day, the Bond series would go through another long hibernation until its producers and studio settled a few legal issues that had been slow burning for several years.  When the 21st James Bond film was ready to move into production it was time for a new actor to take on the role of 007 – after a lot of rumor and speculation it was blonde, blue-eyed Brit Craig that won the role.  At first, hardcore fans were agog that their dark horse agent created by Ian Fleming would now be sporting a new look…but most changed their tune when Casino Royale was released in the fall of 2006.

Marking the first time the franchise had gone back to an original Fleming full source novel since Moonraker, Casino Royale had been given the film treatment a few times before…in a television movie and a spoof film from the late 60’s.  This Casino Royale, however, would adhere more closely to the original novel and act not only as an introduction to the Bond of Craig but also as a way for the series to get a fresh start.

From the opening moments we can tell that this will not be your typical Bond film.  Leaving out the traditional gun barrel opening was risky but winds up fitting in perfectly to the prologue’s origin story aspirations.  This pre-credit sequence is raw knuckle but restrained energy filmed in black and white that leads to an explosion of color during Daniel Kleinman’s gorgeous animated credit sequence.  Paired with Chris Cornell’s rock theme song, it’s clear that this is not your granddad’s James Bond.

The longest Bond film to date, Casino Royale is a white hot film that keeps the grand villains trying to take over the world at bay and instead focuses on a more personal and one on one approach as Bond matches wits and poker hands with evil banker Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen) at the titular casino.  There’s about an hour of lead up until the games begin and it’s here we see that Bond is a loose cannon that has just achieved his double O status.  Operating as a shoot first and ask questions later sort of agent, Bond’s first scene after the strong opening is a breathless chase over rooftops, construction cranes, and through an embassy before he finally gets what he’s after. 

Craig’s brute force physicality is exactly what Bond has needed for quite some time.  The previous actors playing the role all came across as intelligent agents but I never fully bought into the fact they could knock someone’s lights out with a single punch.  In the guise of Craig, Bond is an agent not to be messed with lest you want to pick your teeth up off the ground.

Appearing late in the game is Vesper Lynd (Green) who represents the financial institution bankrolling Bond’s admittance to the high stakes poker game that occupies a good portion of the second act.  From the moment she plops down and proclaims “I’m the money.” both Bond and the audiences know that we’ve met a woman that might just be his equal.  It helps that Green is excellently cagey in her portrayal of Lynd…we’ve seen enough Bond films to know that he’s been double crossed before…so how much can we trust her? 

Craig and Green’s screen chemistry goes on for days and could fuel a small island – both actors really understand the roles they are playing and how they relate to each other.  The complexities are great and it’s a credit to both that you don’t see them working as hard as we come to realize they are.  Green is so perfect…I’d be hard pressed to offer up a better Bond girl.

Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre cries blood and has a torture method sure to make any male viewer wince…Craig is particularly good in these torture scenes in conveying real pain and conflict.  The way the film is structured it’s never clear if Le Chiffre is the main villain or the shadow for someone behind the scenes…there’s a few twists to be had but sometimes the stakes don’t feel as high as they could be.

Dench is back as M and while chronologically it doesn’t make sense that she’s present, I can’t imagine the role without her.  With each film the writers are smart to beef up her contribution and she maximizes every zinger for all its worth. 

The last Bond film to be this long was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and like that film Casino Royale has a deeper story to tell.  It’s refreshing that the producers and director Campbell (returning after GoldenEye) take the time to let the film have its moments that don’t involve big chases and fiery explosions.  It doesn’t feel as long as it is and all production values work in harmony to provide great entertainment for longtime Bond fans or those that are new to the world of 007.

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