Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale (2006)

Genre: Action and Spy Running Time: 2 hrs. 24 min.

Release Date: November 17th, 2006 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Martin Campbell Actors: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic

 


 

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ow will audiences react to a deadly serious, fair-haired, steely-eyed, more intense version of Bond, who is better versed in martial arts and less reliant on futuristic devices? Based on the reception of “Batman Begins” a year earlier, which attempted the same style of darker rebooting, the reaction will certainly be positive. Smothered in more realistic, gasp-inducing, edge-of-your-seat stunts, sharper writing, sincerer acting, and a less fantastical storyline, it’s evident that Bond is back in a new way – better and badder than ever. He’s no longer a tongue-in-cheek, wisecracking jester (though his wit is quick), but a cold, abrasive killing machine, complete with femme fatales on his arms and shaken, stirred, strained, and fruit-adorned beverages at the ready.

Intricate yet plausible enough to follow, the story tracks the early adventures of Agent 007 as he follows the trail of a terrorist organization from its roots in Uganda to its operatives in Madagascar. After routinely blowing things up and out of control, MI6 operative James Bond (Daniel Craig) independently tracks down a key organizer, Alex Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian), who acquires thugs in the Bahamas for an airliner-bombing plot. From Dimitrios, Bond learns that nefarious banker Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) is involved, and that, in an attempt to replace missing terrorist funds, he plans to play in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro. Due to his uncanny card-playing skills – and to foil Le Chiffre’s plot – Bond must also compete in the game, hosted in the exquisite Le Casino Royale. Supervised by Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), in charge of chaperoning MI6’s use of the government’s ten million dollar buy-in, Bond must do everything possible to stop Le Chiffre from winning, all while his interests in Vesper rapidly deepen – along with the suspense, as the network of scheming villains devise torturous tactics against the crafty superspy.

Although “Casino Royale” strives to redefine most of what audiences have come to know about Bond, it instead merely hones the details. Craig isn’t so different from previous iterations of 007; rather, he takes the character back to the basics, intending to lose the baggage from prior pictures to play it as straight as possible (while still snagging some clever one-liners). This carries over to the action as well. Even though the middle of the film centers on a game of poker (changed from the original game of baccarat), the writers knew all too well that audiences would demand a faster pace and interspersed scenes of violence, and so numerous additives of combat and foul play spice up what could have been a tedious string of calls and bluffs.

Following the renowned tradition of memorable antagonists, “Casino Royale” offers the particularly strange Le Chiffre, whose scarred eye frequently drips tears of blood. Though he’s not physically intimidating, there’s something very impressive about a villain who doesn’t need hooks, claws, or metal teeth to be intimidating. Meanwhile, Daniel Craig is a force to be reckoned with; despite blonde hair and baby-blue eyes, he brings a much-needed seriousness to the role – and an athletic physique the film refuses to obscure. Going against the grain for yet another tradition, “Casino Royale’s” pre-credit snippet is presented in black and white to signify Bond’s career evolution and turns out to be one of the shortest and least action-packed of them all. But the real opening scene boasts a number of parkour stunts in aerial locations, across explosive construction zones, and through heavily-guarded embassy barracks, which make up for the deceleration in familiarities. And the title tune (“You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell) nicely matches its predecessors.

One of the only problems with the film is the role of M (played once again by Judi Dench), who was originally introduced as the replacement for Bernard Lee in “Goldeneye.” Following the belief that “Casino Royale” is something of a prequel to the franchise (after all, it is the first of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels), or a restart, it remains unexplained as to why Dench would still be in the role. If viewers are to assume that none of the other Bond films exist, this film could serve as an entirely new beginning. Unfortunately, with a 20-film franchise, it’s difficult to ignore so many ideas that have been clearly established. Additionally, with a reference to 9/11 thrown into an early exposition, Bond suddenly lives in the present, thereby defining the environment as something of a continuation. Plus, CIA regular Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) introduces himself as a new persona, complete with a change of ethnicity.

With its fresh approach to the lead character, its boost of severity, and its return to the source material, “Casino Royale” proves to be the jumpstart the Bond franchise has been begging for ever since “Die Another Day” tried to run it into the ground. Perhaps the decision to re-adapt the book puts this effort in front of the previous original scripts, or perhaps bringing director Martin Campbell back to helm the shift in tone and a new star was the best choice for inspiration. Either way, this 21st adventure marks a grand way to enliven a floundering property.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10