Casino Royale is gritty, visceral, bloody, violent throwback to the stripped down James Bond flicks of the 60’s, a great diversion from the CG and gadget heavy films of the 90’s and 2000’s.
Casino Royale is about the start of James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) career. From the time he gets promoted to a 00 agent (license to kill) and his first major assignment, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) who helps finance various terrorist organizations around the world. His investigation takes him to Madagascar, the Bahamas and finally to Italy to compete against Le Chiffre in a high stakes ($10 million buy in) poker game in order to take down Le Chiffre’s business, with the help of fellow M16 agent Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), British Treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright).
The writers (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis) and director (veteran Bond director Martin Campbell) had this idea that in order to compete for super-spy supremacy in the modern world of Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, who have their brains, their brawn, and little else to go on, a CG flick with more futuristic gadgets than Batman wouldn’t fly, and opted for a stripped down, no-nonsense film. Early on in the film, the free-style walking/movement technique known as Parkour is heavily used in a very long but very intense chase scene between Bond and an African bomb maker (who is played by one of the creators of Parkour). The most high tech gadget Bond is given throughout the whole film is the portable defibrillator in his glove compartment.
Obviously, when discussing a new Bond flick that features a new actor portraying the world’s most famous spy, discussion of his performance is a top priority. Everyone wants to know how he’ll do. And there has been no greater scrutiny of a casting decision than that of Craig for Bond. Craig (Layer Cake, Munich) comes in at a very close second to Sean Connery for best Bond. He’s got the swagger. The charismatic, cocky, “I’m the baddest mother” in the room swagger. But since he’s playing a younger, less experienced Bond, he also has an intensity and naivety to his performance that makes it much more than just another Bond, it propels him to a high plane. You actually take note of Craig’s talent for acting, not just his talent for portraying Bond.
Craig’s supporting cast is just wonderful. The beautiful and talented French actress Green (The Dreamers, Kingdom of Heaven) is a mesmerizing Bond girl. Mikkelsen is one of the best villains we’ve seen since Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill. Wright, Giannini and Dame Judi Dench round out the stellar cast that help Craig slip into Bond’s tuxedo with ease.
But however impressive this film may have been, it was still a rookie film. It felt like a rookie film. Craig played Bond to the best of his abilities at the time, but he’s still trying to gather his full bearings. His second film will be simply amazing. He’ll be more comfortable with the character. And the film just didn’t feel the same without the beloved Q branch.
I would have accepted this film as just a straight spy film. It didn’t need the James Bond brand. And there are times when it doesn’t feel like a Bond film. Because when you think of Bond, you think beautiful women, fantastical gadgets, and vodka martinis, shaken not stirred. Giving Bond depth, emotion and multiple layers sends the franchise in a whole new direction. Only time will tell if that works for the cocky ladies man.